RIP Philae Lander? Scientists Painfully Accept Reality As Last Attempt To Reestablish Contact With The Rosetta Comet Lander Fails

The brave little Philae lander that landed on a fast moving comet might soon be relegated to the history pages. After scientists tried desperately to make contact with the lander and failed, they have painfully accepted the fact that the lander might never reestablish contact.

Scientists from the German Aerospace Center (DLR) have given up hope of establishing further contact with the comet lander, currently saddled on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The comet is racing away from the sun, and the lander isn’t getting enough sunlight to recharge its batteries and send back a signal through satellites to earth, reported The Daily Mail.

Space probe Philae created history by successfully landing on a comet 317 million miles from Earth, and is now believed to have become inoperable due to an insufficient charge. Perhaps being covered by dust or having grown too cold to operate correctly, the Philae lander is no longer accepting or replying to signals, said Stephan Ulamec, Philae project manager.

“Unfortunately, the probability of Philae re-establishing contact with our team at the DLR Lander Control Center is almost zero, and we will no longer be sending any commands.”

Asked if the team had any hopes the lander would somehow miraculously revive, Ulamec said, “It would be very surprising if we received a signal now.”

The news is saddening, but not entirely unexpected because scientists had made a last-ditch attempt to revive Philae lander and failed. It is exactly 15 months after the lander had completed a seemingly impossible journey and landed on a fast moving comet that it now faces “eternal hibernation,” reported NPR.

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Philae is the lander from the Rosetta spacecraft. The spacecraft has been orbiting Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko in the hopes that the lander might come alive and begin beaming back signals. The spacecraft has been closely listening to any signs of life or activity which might indicate the probe may begin operation. However, after a brief period last summer which witnessed a flurry of activity, the Philae lander went silent. There has been no communications being received by or sent from the lander since July 9, forcing the scientists to finally come to terms with the reality that the lander may never wake up.

While ground control has given up hope, they believe that Philae lander is probably still ice-free. However, a thick layer of dust and the extremely cold climate has forced it to cease functioning. At over 350 million kilometers from the sun, Comet 67P has a very hostile, arid and cold atmosphere. Surface temperatures can hit minus 180 degrees Celsius (minus 292 degrees Fahrenheit). In comparison, the lander was designed to endure only minus 50 degree Celsius (minus 58 degrees Fahrenheit).

Though the probe may not wake-up, it far exceeded its expectations, confirmed European Space Agency (ESA).

“After touching down Philae bounced several times and completed 80 percent of its planned first science sequence before falling into hibernation.”

It was the unexpected tumble, which is being blamed for the failure. Had the Philae lander not bounced, it would have successfully fired harpoons that would have anchored it a sunny spot. Instead, the probe finally managed to settle in a partially shady area on the comet’s craggy surface.

Despite the hiccups, including the probe’s inability to drill into the comet’s surface, the lander was able to send all the data it had collected before it ceased functioning. Unperturbed, scientists are now gearing up for a “controlled impact” the Rosetta spacecraft will have on the surface of the comet. After a journey that lasted a decade, the Rosetta spacecraft and the Philae lander will unite on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.

[Photo by European Space Agency]