24Jun2015

Rosetta’s Final Mission To Land Beside Philae

 

The team behind the Rosetta comet landing will attempt to set down the orbiter next to lander Philae in a final mission next year.Its a daring and totally ambitious plan that just may work.

The European Space Agency’s spacecraft has been orbiting comet 67p/Churyumove-Gerasimenko since releasing the space probe last November. Project scientist Matt Taylor said next year they were hoping to use the remaining dregs of fuel to move Rosetta to within 5km of the comet before trying to land on the surface. The mission was due to end in September, but the ESA team said it was likely it would now run to 2016.

Rosetta’s Philae Comet Landing site

Mr Taylor said ‘for emotional reasons’ the team would try to place the orbiter next to lander Philae so that ‘mother and child’ could be reunited. “Our hope is to land for a fourth time, ” Mr Taylor told the Cheltenham Science Festival, making reference to the fact that Philae bounced three times before coming to rest.

“The best thing to do is to get as close to the comet and then let it join Philae on the surface next year. Mother and child reunited. “Obviously we will have to try and get it close to Philae. That’s more for emotional reasons. It’s really important to get close the comet.”

The 25-year mission was thrown into jeopardy last year after Philae bounced away from its landing site on the comet and became stuck under the shadow of a cliff where it’s solar panels could not pick up light.

On November 15, the European Space Agency said that Philae had ‘fallen into idle mode – a possible long silence.’ However, before its power ran out, the lander managed to successfully deploy its instruments, including an ice pick drill and hammer, to obtain surface samples for analysis.

The information includes results from sophisticated devices designed to analyse the comet’s chemical make-up and throw new light on what could have been the building blocks of the universe. Comets bombarding the early Earth are thought to have brought with them large amounts of water, along with complex organic compounds.

Mr Taylor said the part of comet where the probe landed had now moved into the summer season and so the lander would be getting more light and could turn back on between now and July. “The comet has seasons so we have just moved into summer and the Southern Hemisphere is in the light,” he said.

The Philae lander on the surface of comet 67P

The Philae lander on the surface of comet 67P Photo: PA

Scientist Monica Grady, who helped develop the Ptolemy instrument, said she was still hopeful the lander would wake up and that a jet could still push Philae into an upright position. “Philae is taking a short break and the last dregs of Philae battery were drained but we are hoping there will be sunlight to melt the ice so that enough sunshine falls on Philae and powers up it’s solar cells.

“My worst nightmare is that Philae wakes up in 20 years time and says ‘I’m here’ but Rosetta will be gone. “The longer we wait the less likely it is that Philae will wake up. But I am a glass half full sort of person, A jet might open under Philae and nudge it over.”   Source: Telegraph

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