Philae Lander Runs Out Of Battery On Comet 67/P, Mission Might Have Ended Prematurely

It took 10 years for the Philae Lander to reach the surface of Comet 67/P. The craft traveled an astounding 310 million miles as a part of the Rosetta Mission to reach the comet to become the first ever man-made object to land on the surface of a comet. However, the mission which was supposed to go on for nine more months might have ended prematurely after the European Space Agency announced that the craft has depleted its batteries. In fact, as of now, the main control room has lost contact with Philae, reports CNN. Worse still, it might not be possible for them re-contact Philae again.

In a blog post announcing the developments, ESA writes, “Philae has fallen into ‘idle mode’ for a potentially long silence. In this mode, all instruments and most systems on board are shut down.”

This might have come as surprise for many who thought the mission was well on track and was a major success, even with some initial hiccups. That said, there is no denying the fact that landing a spacecraft on a comet traveling at over 86,000 miles an hour some 310 million miles away from the earth is no mean feat by itself.

In the blog post, ESA explains the reason for the premature ending of the mission. As per the original plan, Philae was designed to transmit data from Comet 67/P for nearly nine months. It had a set of solar panels that would be used to power its internals. However, when the craft landed on the surface of the comet, it seem to have ended up in a region that doesn’t seem to get enough sunlight to power its batteries using the solar cells.

While they have not ruled out the possibility of regaining contact with Philae, they do add that it would be possible only if sufficient sunlight falls on the solar panels and it manages to wake up from the slumber. In order to boost this possibility, before contact was lost, Philae was sent a command to rotate its main body to an orientation where more sunlight might fall on the solar panels. Whether that maneuver succeeded or not would be known in due course. According to ESA, the next possible communication slot will commence today at around 10:00 UTC / 11:00 CET. However, they are quick to add that given the low current available from the solar cells on Philae, establishing contact with Philae might be unlikely – at least in the next few days.

That said, the Rosetta Mission as a while still continues with the orbiter monitoring the path of Comet 67/P around the Sun. On Twitter, Philae confirmed the news about its depleted batteries in a light hearted manner.

While there will be disappointment over the short life of Philae on the surface of Comet 67/P, the fact that humans were successful in placing the craft on to the surface of a comet is a huge success in itself.

[Image Via ESA]