The brave little washing machine-sized comet lander/probe’s mission of over ten years and over four billion miles has come to an end.
Philae the “little probe that could” has reached its final place of rest
For those of you cheering for Matt Damon to win the Oscar for his role in “The Martian” take heed, the cold vastness of space does not always have a happy ending. The probe known as Philae which landed on the surface of comet 67P/Churyomov-Gerasimenko following a historic 10-year piggy-back ride on the comet-orbiting mothership Rosetta has gone to sleep.
“Time to say goodbye to Philae,” announced the German Aerospace Center DLR, and said it “will no longer be sending any commands.”
Scientists announced today that they had effectively given up hope of ever contacting the intrepid comet lander that captivated the hearts of many. Philae’s failure to properly deploy her landing harpoons send her bouncing across the comet’s surface until landing in shadows. The significance of a shady landing was known to scientists immediately, Philae would be unable to harness the energy of the sun to recharge its batteries in order to continue functioning.
That hardly means the mission was a failure. The 100-kilo laboratory with a “heart of gold” was able to complete around 80% of its tasks before signing out for what is believed to be the last time in January of last year.
Rosetta will still observe and report on the comet until September of this year, but just doesn’t have the energy to go searching for her lost child anymore before she makes her own landing, which will also mark the end of her journey.
“The chances for Philae to contact our team at our lander control centre are unfortunately getting close to zero,” says Stephan Ulamec, Philae project manager at the German Aerospace Center, DLR. “We are not sending commands any more and it would be very surprising if we were to receive a signal again.”
We (European Space Agency) still landed on a comet after 10 years in space
“We would be very surprised to hear from Philae again after so long, but we will keep Rosetta’s listening channel on until it is no longer possible due to power constraints as we move ever further from the Sun towards the end of the mission,” says Patrick Martin, ESA’s Rosetta mission manager.
“Philae has been a tremendous challenge and for the lander teams to have achieved the science results that they have in the unexpected and difficult circumstances is something we can all be proud of.
“The combined achievements of Rosetta and Philae, rendezvousing with and landing on a comet, are historic high points in space exploration.”
Philae’s landing, which again involved a failed thruster and the failure of the harpoons to secure the landing was not all lost and that is the point.
The bumpy landing was made on November 12, 2014. From there, Philae’s industriousness was put on display for the world as it poked and prodded the comet’s surface in hopes of helping us understand the origins of the universe. With primary batteries running out, Philae uploaded its discoveries to Rosetta where they were then sent to Earth.
In June of 2015, 67P neared the sun allowing Philae’s batteries to be recharged. Philae emerged from hibernation and sent home a two-minute message.
On July 9, 2015, the probe sent eight brief messages and went dark.
“We should not be too sad about what we could not achieve, but should be happy about what we could achieve,” Ulamec said.
“We knew there was an end to the mission.”