ESA’s Philae wakes from deep-space hibernation, sends stunning images of comet

March 30, 2014 by  
Filed under Solar Energy Tips

Almost exactly 10 years ago, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Philae lander and Rosetta spaceprobe were launched into space atop an Ariane 5 rocket to rendezvous with Comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Now Philae has been awakened from a deep-space slumber and has the comet in its sight. ESA officials say the lander reestablished contact with Earth on March 28, and that it is prepared to begin its mission.

Currently, Philae and its 10 instruments are riding piggy-back on the Rosetta satellite as it approaches its destination. Philae and Rosetta are expected to arrive at the 4-kilometer-wide chunk of ice in August. Rosetta is currently 655 million kilometers from Earth and 3.8 million kilometers from 67P, according to a report by BBC News.

After completing some mapping tasks, Rosetta will release Philae to attach itself to 67P in November, the BBC reports. If all goes well, that is. The mission is challenging to say the least and its success or failure could well have an impact on NASA’s plans to land astronauts on an asteroid.

Because the comet is only 4 kilometers across, its gravitational field will be extremely weak. So the plan is to use harpoons and ice screws to tether Philae to the comet’s surface.

The Rosetta probe had traveled so far from Earth that its solar panels could no longer pick up enough of the Sun’s energy to operate its onboard systems. So, engineers decided to shut it down for 31 months.

Now, Rosetta is moving closer to the Sun again and its handlers are switching on its instruments one at a time. Most will be turned back off for awhile while the energy supply is still low.

The satellite’s imaging system Osiris will remain on because it’s needed for plotting 67P’s exact position in space. The ESA has released the first images captured by Osiris.

Comet 67P is what’s known as a “Jupiter class” comet and takes six-and-a-half years to orbit the Sun. By studying the comet, scientists hope to learn more about its inner structure along with its nature and composition.

It should come as no surprise that Philae has its own Twitter account and reportedly is quite chatty about its current status.

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