ESA’s Philae comet lander made contact with ground controllers for the third time Monday. Rosetta mission team disclosed that the probe should soon get its battery recharged and we should hear more from Philae as communications would become more stable.
Philae went into a blackout seven months ago after a bumpy landing on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko’s back. Its mothership Rosetta spacecraft continued to orbit the comet that approached the sun at dizzying speeds.
ESA engineers hoped that the lander, whose landing location remained largely unknown until a week ago, would turn back to life as its solar panels would start receiving more sunlight.
So, on June 13 and 14 Philae touched base with Earth for the first time in seven months by beaming back several data packages. On the other hand, communications was faint since Rosetta orbiter was out of range.
Currently scientists were able to get the orbiter closer to the lander, so the third contact was a lengthier one. It lasted about 19 minutes, while the first contact was only about two minutes long.
ESA scientists hope that the lander’s batteries would soon be enough recharged to allow the probe resume experiments and sample gathering on the comet’s surface, especially now that 67P gets closer to the sun and seems to have come to life as its icy core starts to melt and release gases.
As of Friday, the lander dialed home again and transmitted 185 data packages between 9:20 and 9:39 a.m. EDT.
Ground controller Michael Maibaum from the German Aerospace Center (DLR), the agency that had supervised the construction of Philae, said that his team currently has “updated status information” on the comet lander.
Mr. Maibaum explained that Philae works at temperatures of zero degrees Celsius, so its battery should be soon able to store energy again. And if that happens, Philae would be able to operate during the comet’s night, when 67P doesn’t face the sun anymore due to its spinning.
According to new data, the little probe now receives even more sunlight. The DLR reported that more of its solar panels were bathed in light, while as of Friday four of them were storing energy.
“The contact has confirmed that Philae is doing very well,”
the agency added.
Previous transmissions had shown that the lander was fully operational back in May, but it couldn’t make radio contact because he was too far away from its mothership Rosetta.
But as the orbiter’s orbit was adjusted so it can communicate better with Philae, the 220-pound probe was finally able to dial home.