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Comet Lander Falls Silent; Scientists Fear It Has Moved

Jul 22

vivaoporto writes: European scientists say the Philae comet lander fell silent on Monday, raising fears that it has moved again on its new home millions of miles from Earth. Over the last few weeks, Rosetta has been flying along the terminator plane of the comet in order to find the best location to communicate with Philae. However, over the weekend of 10-11 July, the star trackers struggled to lock on to stars at the closer distances. No contact has been made with Philae since 9 July. The data acquired at that time are being investigated by the lander team to try to better understand Philae’s situation.

One possible explanation being discussed at DLR’s Lander Control Center is that the position of Philae may have shifted slightly, perhaps by changing its orientation with respect to the surface in its current location. The lander is likely situated on uneven terrain, and even a slight change in its position – perhaps triggered by gas emission from the comet – could mean that its antenna position has also now changed with respect to its surroundings. This could have a knock-on effect as to the best position Rosetta needs to be in to establish a connection with the lander.

The current status of Philae remains uncertain and is a topic of on-going discussion and analysis. But in the meantime, further commands are being prepared and tested to allow Philae to re-commence operations. The lander team wants to try to activate a command block that is still stored in Philae’s computer and which was already successfully performed after the lander’s unplanned flight across to the surface to its final location. “Although the mission will now focus its scientific priority on the orbiter, Rosetta will continue attempting – up to and past perihelion – to obtain Philae science packets once a stable link has been acquired,” adds Patrick Martin, Rosetta mission manager.


Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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