15. June 2015

Noc­tur­nal con­tact with Phi­lae

Phi­lae on Comet 67P/Churyu­mov-Gerasi­menko
Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0).

Philae on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

Few things could be more fas­ci­nat­ing or de­mand­ing in the his­to­ry of Eu­ro­pean space trav­el than the Roset­ta comet mis­sion. The lan­der, Phi­lae, will sep­a­rate from its par­ent craft on 11 Novem­ber 2014, touch down on the comet and im­me­di­ate­ly fire har­poons to an­chor it­self on the sur­face. The two space­craft will then ac­com­pa­ny the comet on its month-long jour­ney to the point at which it is clos­est to the Sun.

The Philae lander reported back on 14 June 2015. From 23:22 to 23:26 CEST, the lander sent some data packets that are now being evaluated at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR). "But this time, the connection to the lander was relatively unstable," says DLR Philae Lander Project Leader Stephan Ulamec. On 13 June 2015, the lander woke up for 85 seconds for the first time after a nearly seven-month hibernation and sent the first regarding its condition. The data acquired during the second contact confirms that Philae, which is on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, is in good condition and ready for operations. Now, the trajectories of the Rosetta orbiter will need to be adapted to allow longer contact times with Philae.

There is now sufficient energy and a temperature that is not so low, so Philae is currently receiving at least three hours of sunlight per comet day, which supplies it with energy. Until now, the engineers had been expecting only 1.3 hours of illumination. Before the team at the DLR Lander Control Center can command Philae, which is about 304 million kilometres away from Earth, stable and long duration connections to the lander must be established. Only then, can the prepared procedures for the scientific work with its 10 instruments be uploaded and the next experiments begin.

The order in which the instruments will be activated will be determined once Philae's health has been fully analysed. "First, the non-mechanical instruments will be used – that is, instruments that do not drill or hammer," explains Ulamec. In the forefront will be those instruments that consume little energy and also send only small amounts of data to Earth. With the awakening of Philae, it could be possible to do research on a comet on site while it becomes active on the way to the Sun for the first time.

The mission

Rosetta is an ESA mission with contributions from its Member States and NASA. Rosetta’s Philae lander is contributed by a consortium led by DLR, MPS, CNES and ASI.

  • Manuela Braun
    Ed­i­tor HR
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)
    Cen­tral HR Mar­ket­ing
    Telephone: +49 2203 601-3882
    Münchener Straße 20
    82234 Weßling
  • Stephan Ulamec
    Phi­lae Lan­der Project Man­ag­er
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)
    Space Op­er­a­tions and As­tro­naut Train­ing
    Mi­cro­grav­i­ty Us­er Sup­port Cen­ter (MUSC)
    Münchener Straße 20
    82234 Weßling

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