The last time the European Space Agency received a signal from Rosetta’s lander (Philae) was on July 9, 2015. Attempts to establish contact with the small lander have been met with silence. And, “time is running out,” according to Stephan Ulamec, Philae lander manager at DLR.
Every day, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko drifts further away from the sun. And every day, temperatures fall. In just a couple of weeks, time will have run out for the small lander. Conditions are expected to be “lander-hostile,” by the end of January. Temperatures will be far too cold for any communications to be established.
Communicating with Philae
The ESA have a plan. Yesterday, the lander team sent a command (via Rosetta) to the lander. If received and executed, Philae’s momentum wheel will switch on and shift the lander’s position.
“At best, the spacecraft might shake dust from its solar panels and better align itself with the Sun,” says Koen Geurts, Philae’s technical manager.
So far, there has been no response. DLR (German Aerospace Center) revealed the news on Twitter this morning.
— DLR – English (@DLR_en) January 11, 2016
There’s still a chance the tiny lander will send back a signal. There are two communication opportunities each day until Jan. 21. After that, Rosetta will fly to the southern hemisphere according to DLR.
“Unfortunately, Philae’s silence does not bode well,” says Stephan.
Even if Philae receives and executes the command, its days are numbered. By the end of January, Comet 67P will be more than 300 million kilometers away from the sun. And the vast distances will plunge temperatures to less than -51 degrees Celsius on the surface. Temperatures far too cold for Philae to be able to turn on.
As for Rosetta? It will keep its communication unit switched on past January just in case Philae manages to establish contact.
Rosetta will ultimately join Philae on the comet’s surface (a controlled impact) when its mission comes to an end in late September.
Comet 67p image credits: ESA