Last year the Space Agency from Europe (ESA) successfully managed to land a spacecraft on the surface of a planet. Now, Rosetta is trying to reach estranged Philae, the comet lander that is currently on the surface of the comet designated as 67P.
Because the last time when Philae was active was last July, scientists at the ESA are growing nervous. As time passes by and no contact is made, chances that the piece of technology will be forever lost greatly increase.
An operations manager, Cinzia Fantinati, from the Philae control team at the Center of German Aerospace, says that there is a slight possibility that the comet lander could be brought back home. This could be accomplished if the Rosetta spacecraft manages to reach the landing craft.
In order for Rosetta to establish contact with estranged Philae, the landing craft must first be cleansed of the dust that has accumulated on it since its landing on the 67P comet. This operation will prove to be a bit tricky since a couple of systems are faulty on the Philae, and others are plain unresponsive.
The experts from the Center of German Aerospace think that they can clean Philae’s solar panels by powering up the momentum wheel and sending a spin command to it. This would do the trick in cleaning the large amounts of space dust. The wheel in question was used as a stabilizer at the moment of the craft’s descent on the 67P comet.
When the landing craft will be clean, the solar panels would be able to align themselves and take advantage of the Sun’s position. This is a mission with a limited time-frame, though since the researchers have predicted that the comet will only remain in a charging distance from the sun until the end of this January. If the Philae is not recovered until then, it will be lost forever.
At the moment, the temperature is high enough for the craft to take flight, but if the comet distances itself more from the Sun, the cold will affect the equipment irreparably. Hopes lie in the fact that Philae is only to dusty to be able to charge himself and send additional data. Stephan Ulamec, one of the members of the team which monitors the craft, hopes that it is not tilted, thus impossible to be recovered.
A representative from the French Space Agency, Philippe Gaudon, says the landing craft is already lost and any other attempt made by the team is futile.
The mission Rosetta is trying to reach estranged Philae one last time this January. After that, the spacecraft, which is predicted to function until September, will be brought home.
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