Earlier this year, it was feared that one of the Europeans Space Agency’s (ESA) lander modules, Philae, was lost after a tumultuous maneuver upon the comet it was to take data from. As of now Philae, dropped by the probe Rosetta, is hurtling through space on its comet and has not been able to send relay back to Earth.
Now it is getting a second chance. Between today and the 20th of March is an optimal time for the little landers’ solar panels to gather enough sunlight to send a signal to Rosetta. So far however, the lines have been silent.
There will be a total of eleven optimal spaces for signal transmission, including the period already passed today.
The crisis came about when Philae attempted to land on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on November 12. It rode on a ten year journey to get there, but the landing was bumpy. After bouncing twice on the surface, Philae settled into a crevice where it received little sunlight. This in turn rendered the lander nearly useless, until the comet can come into a position where sunlight can reach it directly.
“But the difficulty is whether it has enough energy first to wake up and then to communicate with Rosetta. We are just trying, and we will try again if it doesn’t work this week.” said Patrick Martin, Mission Manager for Rosetta.
The overall goal of the mission is in jeopardy, as the main task is to study the composition of 67P. However, all is not lost, and the mission has racked up a notable amount of firsts for the European Space Agency.
Among others, Philae is the first instrument to make a soft landing on a comet, and Rosetta is the first spacecraft to orbit a comet nucleus. This is the solid part of the comet, often called a dirty snowball, due to its composition.
Since there has been no message from Philae, everyone at the ESA will have to sit tight and wait.
“We will have more opportunities in the coming weeks and months,” said Martin. The March opening is not the only one, and it is expected that Philae will have access to sunlight at other moments throughout the spring.
Until then, we will just have to hope.