The Rosetta mission continues in orbit circling Comet 67/p. The story from the comet’s surface is a bit more grim. European Space Agency administrators are trying to put their best spin on it, but a series a failures with the Philae lander will severely limit the potential science gained from landing on a comet.
In fact, we might already have everything we’re going to get!
Landing a spacecraft is difficult. Landing on a rock with an uneven surface, gas vents blowing and nearly zero gravity adds even more complexity.
Scientists knew the lander would bounce, so they designed three systems to hold it in place. As far as I can tell none worked!
There has been confusion about the tiny thruster atop the lander. It was supposed to push Philae against the comet. There’s a reference to it in today’s news release, but no explanation.
with no downwards thruster
Without the thruster, the ice screws on each lander leg didn’t hold. Harpoons, designed to firmly affix the lander to 67/p, never even fired!
Philae bounced a few times, then came to rest near a large boulder which blocked access to sunlight. Without a significant solar charge batteries were quickly spent.
At 5:36 PM PST Friday (0036 UTC Saturday) Philae went into ‘hibernation.’ That’s a polite way of saying it’s dead weight on the comet’s surface.
There is a chance as the comet moves closer to the Sun there will be enough light to get things going again. That’s hope more than anything. We’ve probably heard the last from Philae.
“It has been a huge success, the whole team is delighted,” said Stephan Ulamec, lander manager at the DLR German Aerospace Agency, who monitored Philae’s progress from ESA’s Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany, this week.
“Despite the unplanned series of three touchdowns, all of our instruments could be operated and now it’s time to see what we’ve got.” ESA news release
I’m not going to say Ulamec is lying… Oh, what the hell. He’s lying.
The whole team decidedly ISN’T delighted. Everyone expected more. Everyone is disappointed.
There’s still a lot going on with the Rosetta orbiter which will follow the comet around the Sun. We’ll learn a lot. But the chance to witness what happens on the surface of a comet as it goes active is now slim.
This mission took decades of planning plus another ten plus years enroute. There won’t be another mission like it in my lifetime.