The European Space Agency's Rosetta mission grinds to a halt as scientists begin to give up on the Philae comet lander.
The European Space Agency has been having a tough go with one of their most famous missions lately. According to a report from the BBC, ground controllers may have put the final nail in the coffin of the comet lander Philae, the main piece of equipment used in the Rosetta mission.
The Philae lander arrived on the surface of Comet 67P in November 2014, and has since given operators on Earth quite a bit of trouble. The lander was operational for roughly 60 hours after landing, but a bad angle has resulted in the probe’s solar panels being unable to face the sun. When the probe’s reserve batteries died out, scientists had little clue how to get the craft up and running again.
According to Stephan Ulamec, the Philae lander’s project manager at the German Aerospace Center, or the DLR, “Unfortunately, the probability of Philae re-establishing contact with our team at the DLR Lander Control Center is almost zero, and we will no longer be sending any commands.” The DLR was in charge of the construction of Philae, which scientists believe is covered in space dust and now far too cold to get back up and running.
The initial landing on comet 67P was what left Philae in such bad shape, but even the act of landing a probe on a moving comet was a breakthrough on its own. The probe first bounced almost a kilometer before settling in the comet’s shade at a strange angle. Without a steady source of energy from the sun, the lander was only able to perform the functions that its small backup battery would allow.
The last time scientists contacted the probe was on July 9, 2015. The comet is continuing its orbit into the colder reaches of the solar system, approaching temperatures below negative 180C.
A press release from the ESA describing Philae’s unfortunate situation can be found here.