Comet lander checks in with Earth

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The Philae lander, which Europe hopes to put on the surface of a comet later this year, has been re-activated after three years in deep-space hibernation.

The small probe is currently riding piggy-back on the Rosetta satellite. This was despatched 10 years ago to rendezvous with the Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, and was itself awoken in January.

"Mothership" and lander should arrive at the huge ice object in August.

After a period of mapping, Rosetta will then release Philae on its challenging bid to attach itself to 67P in November.

Being only 4km across, the comet's gravitational field will be very weak, and the 100kg box of instruments will use harpoons and ice screws to try to hold itself down.

The German space agency (DLR) confirmed receipt of the activation message from Philae just after 1500 Central European Time (1400 GMT).

Philae's wake-up is part of a sequence of commissioning activities taking place over the next few weeks.

The main probe was sent so far from Earth to chase down 67P that it went beyond the distance where solar panels could pick up enough energy to run all onboard systems.

Engineers therefore took the decision to close down operations on the satellite for a period of 31 months.

Written By: Jonathan Amos
continue to source article at bbc.com

3 COMMENTS

  1. Comets have great potential as sources of water and other materials without the high fuel-cost of lifting those off a planet. This mission should give very valuable information on the composition and structure of comets along with info on the history of the Solar-System.

    The main probe was sent so far from Earth to chase down 67P that it went beyond the distance where solar panels could pick up enough energy to run all onboard systems.

    Engineers therefore took the decision to close down operations on the satellite for a period of 31 months.

    That is why the probes to the outer planets and beyond, use Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators to produce their electrical power and the heat to prevent them from freezing.

    Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator

    Radioisotope thermoelectric generator

  2. I was just taking a breaking from watching “Richard Dawkins and Steven Weinberg Discuss Science and Religion”, and Steven Weinburg was just saying you can get more done with automated space probes than with expensive manned missions. I agree.
    Back to the video!

  3. It looks like some comets could be “rubble piles” loosely held together by gravity, rather like “rubble-pile” asteroids!

    Rosetta’s target is ‘double’ comet – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-27110882

    Europe’s Rosetta probe has acquired some sensational new images of the comet it is chasing through space.

    The pictures show that 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko appears to be not one but two objects joined together. It is what scientists call a “contact binary”.

    How the comet came to take this form is unknown.

    It is possible that 67P suffered a major fracture at some point in its past; it is also possible the two parts have totally different origins.

    What is clear is that the European Space Agency (Esa) mission team now has additional and unexpected considerations as it plans how to land on the comet later this year – not least, which part of the comet should be chosen for a touchdown?

    The images in the sequence of nine were acquired last Friday.

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