5. September 2016

Comet lan­der Phi­lae found

Comet lander Philae on 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko
Comet lan­der Phi­lae on 67P/Churyu­mov-Gerasi­menko

Comet lander Philae on 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

The Roset­ta or­biter has been draw­ing ev­er clos­er to Comet 67P/Churyu­mov-Gerasi­menko. Now the Phi­lae land­ing craft is clear­ly vis­i­ble in the im­age ac­quired by the OSIRIS cam­era sys­tem.
Philae: found!
Phi­lae: found!

Philae: found!

Short­ly be­fore the end of the mis­sion, the OSIRIS cam­era sys­tem fit­ted to Roset­ta man­aged to lo­cate Phi­lae at its land­ing site on Comet 67P/Churyu­mov-Gerasi­menko.
The OSIRIS im­age clear­ly shows some of Phi­lae’s in­stru­ments

The OSIRIS image clearly shows some of Philae’s instruments

Blurred yet still sharp enough, the im­age tak­en by the high res­o­lu­tion OSIRIS cam­era on board the Roset­ta or­biter clear­ly shows the Phi­lae land­ing craft at its fi­nal rest­ing place on Comet 67P/Churyu­mov-Gerasi­menko.
De­tailed im­age of the comet’s sur­face

Detailed image of the comet’s surface

The im­age ac­quired by the high res­o­lu­tion OSIRIS cam­era in­stalled on ESA’s Roset­ta or­biter pro­vides a de­tailed im­pres­sion of the sur­face struc­ture of Comet 67P/Churyu­mov-Gerasi­menko.

The comet lander Philae has been found. The OSIRIS camera on board the Rosetta orbiter took the revealing images of the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on 2 September 2016. They show the landing craft lying sideways in a crevasse. Two of the three landing legs are clearly visible. "We finally have a full view of Philae," says Koen Geurts from the Philae Lander Control Center at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) in Cologne. "Even at first glance you can tell that we were fortunate, because Philae would probably never have seen sunlight again had it been just 10 metres further inside the crevasse." In light of these new images, the scientists at the Philae Lander Control Center have already started to analyse what happened when the landing craft touched down and started operations. "We are looking forward to finding out exactly how the landing site we have now discovered influenced the lander's operation and radio contact," Geurts continues.

The scientific data acquired thus far can also be analysed more precisely now that Philae's exact landing site is known. "As we can already see in the images, Philae is hidden in a shadow close to a rock face,” explains Ekkehard Kührt, planetary researcher at DLR and member of the OSIRIS team. "Now we can use the new OSIRIS images to track the position of the Sun throughout our experiments, which will help improve our interpretation of temperature measurements and other aspects." Tilman Spohn, head of the DLR Institute of Planetary Research and member of the MUPUS team is equally delighted: "What a magnificent achievement by the OSIRIS team, and a real milestone in space exploration! Now we want to see what exactly we hammered on using MUPUS, and can also improve the interpretation of our infrared measurements."

It had already been assumed that Philae may have come to rest on the rim of a crater, directly on the head of the duck-shaped comet. So far, however, the images had only shown individual pixels that might indicate Philae's presence. The latest images were acquired with a greater resolution of five centimetres per pixel at a close distance of just 2.7 kilometres from the now less active comet. And they clearly show tiny Philae. "It was extremely difficult to obtain definite confirmation of the landing craft's location in the rugged, murky terrain," adds Kührt. "We are thrilled and touched that we were able to locate Philae in the run up to the end of the Rosetta mission, on 30 September."

A cold and dark landing site

It took Philae two hours to drift the approximately one kilometre from its original landing site Agilkia to its current location Abydos after it bounced off the surface of the comet on 12 November 2014. The harpoons designed to anchor Philae to the surface of the comet failed to deploy – and the ice screws in its feet were unable to sufficiently secure the lander to the surface. But the real work of the team in the DLR control room really only began after this spectacular landing: they kept the landing craft in operation for 60 hours, issuing commands to the 10 instruments on board before finally rotating the craft to face the Sun. Even then they knew: the landing site is extremely shadowy and cold. Sunlight reached the landing craft for less than 90 minutes over that 12.4-hour comet day. The thermal sensor MUPUS did its best to hammer into the surface of the comet, where it encountered a hard layer of ice and measured temperatures below minus 180 degrees Celsius. Moreover, the images taken by the ROLIS and CIVA cameras showed us the somewhat fissured, shadowy environment that we can now marvel at from a different perspective thanks to the pictures delivered by the OSIRIS camera system.

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Goodbye from Comet 67P

About the mission

Rosetta is a European Space Agency mission with contributions from its Member States and NASA. Rosetta's Philae lander has been contributed by a consortium led by DLR, MPS, the French space agency, CNES (Centre National d’Études Spatiales), and the Italian space agency, ASI (Agenzia Spaziale Italiana).

The OSIRIS camera system was developed by a consortium under the leadership of MPS (Germany) in cooperation with the Center of Studies and Activities in Space (Centro Interdipartimentale di Studi e Attività Spaziali; CISAS) at the University of Padua (Italy), the Laboratoire d'Astrophysique de Marseille (LAM) at Aix-Marseille University (France), the Andalusian Institute of Astrophysics (Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía) of the Spanish National Research Council (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas; CSIC), the ESA Scientific Support Office, the Spanish National Institute for Aerospace Technology (Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aeroespacial; INTA), the Technical University of Madrid (Spain), the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Uppsala University (Sweden), and the Institute of Computer and Network Engineering the Technical University of Braunschweig (Germany). OSIRIS has been financially supported by the national agencies of Germany (DLR), France (CNES), Italy (ASI), Spain (MEC) and Sweden (SNSB), and by ESA’s Technical Directorate.

  • Manuela Braun
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)
    Pro­gramme and Strat­e­gy, Space Re­search and Tech­nol­o­gy
    Telephone: +49 2203 601-3882
    Fax: +49 2203 601-3249
    Hansestraße 115
    51149 Cologne
  • Dr Koen Geurts
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)
    Space Op­er­a­tions and As­tro­naut Train­ing
    Space Op­er­a­tions and As­tro­naut Train­ing
    Telephone: +49 2203 601-3636

  • Dr.rer.nat. Ekkehard Kührt
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)

    In­sti­tute of Plan­e­tary Re­search, As­ter­oids and Comets
    Telephone: +49 30 67055-514
    Fax: +49 30 67055-340
    Linder Höhe
    51147 Köln
  • Prof.Dr. Tilman Spohn
    HP³ Prin­ci­pal In­ves­ti­ga­tor
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)

    DLR In­sti­tute of Plan­e­tary Re­search
    Telephone: +49 30 67055-300
    Fax: +49 30 67055-303
    Linder Höhe
    51147 Köln

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