Philae Robot Still To Land On Comet After Thruster Failure

With less than one hour, Philae is still scheduled to land on the comet, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko at 11 a.m. EST, after the robot suffered a failure earlier in its cold-gas jet nitrogen thruster system. The third “go” signal was delayed after the thruster system refused to function during the separation between Rosetta and Philae.

Lander chief Stephan Ulamec, from the German Space Agency, is hopeful, stating that “We will just have to rely now on the harpoons, the screws in the feet, or the softness of the surface. It doesn’t make it any easier, that’s for sure.”

Paired with the comet’s diverse terrain, Philae could land anywhere from a cliff or a massive fissure, or not land at all, if the robot bounces off the comet’s surface instead.

Fred Jansen, mission manager for Esa Rosetta, added that “We’ve analysed the comet, we’ve analysed the terrain, and we’re confident that the risks we have are still in the area of the 75% success ratio that we always felt.”

Around 9 this morning, ESA confirmed the successful separation of Philae, and that the orbiter’s descent to the comet had begun. The successful mission is so far inspiring a buzz around the world as to whether or not the final leg, the landing, will also be successful.

Philae Rosetta separate

(Photo courtesy of ESA / BBC )

The drama surrounding the nitrogen thruster is creating some nerves, as the thruster is supposed to counteract the lander in the event that it bounces off of the comet’s surface. Unfortunately, the pins used to activate the system failed after four attempts this morning. There were no changes in pressure, and without the cold-gas system, Philae relies on its two harpoons and ice screws to bolt itself onto the comet. It will not be easy for the landing to go smoothly, but it is still possible for the lander to not bounce off without the thrusters. The thruster failure is an anticipated issue that scientists prepare for with the back-up landing methods.

Given the probability of the landing being a failure, it is surprising that the scientific teams have given the lander a “go,” but according to Jansen, there is less than a 1 percent chance of the pins succeeding at this point. It would affect the long-term goal of the landing if they tried to make any adjustments or compensate at this hour. The comet seems to be moving more, and it is better to continue forward. This is why there are other bolting methods in place. At the last hour, if something goes wrong, all team members hope that the other landing options activate for a successful landing on the moving comet.

The Inquisitr recently reported on how the Rosetta spacecraft launch began in 2004. The project has monitored the travel of the comet and prepared to launch the 220-pound lander, Philae. The ESA Rosetta successfully reached an ideal distance from the comet over the summer. The Philae is about the size of a refrigerator.

Whether Philae lands on the comet, it will take about a half hour for the signal to reach Earth. The goal is for the lander to reach Agilkia, an area by the comet’s nucleus. People can watch the live streaming for the comet landing.

[Photo courtesy of ESA/ATG / IFLScience]