Success for the European Space Agency

The landing yesterday of the Philae robot on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko can be hailed as one of the greatest successes in space exploration history. However, there has been a complication with the landing site, and now the robot is in danger of running out of power. At 8.35am GMT the robot separated from the Rossetta satellite, and began it’s seven hour decent towards the surface of the comet. Despite having been launched in 2004 by the European Space Agency and travelled 6.4 billion km over a period of 10 years, the most difficult and crucial stage was the landing, and although not disastrous, it has not gone precisely as it was planned.

 

Upon landing, the robot bounced back off the surface twice, with the first bounce taking it a kilometer vertically off the surface. It has now come to reside roughly 1km away from the designated landing site, in the shadow of a cliff. And herein lies the problem. The robot has roughly 60 hours of battery life, but it is only receiving 1.5 hours of sunlight per 12 hour rotation, and this will not be enough to sustain it for too long. One potential solution is to use some of the landing gear to ‘launch’ the probe to another more suitable site on the comet. However this is only being considered as a last resort due to the rushed and potentially hazardous nature of such an endeavor. Also there may not be enough time left to work out how best to make such a launch with the battery running out.

 

Despite this setback, the mission has been hailed as a huge success, with several stunning images being sent back of the comet surface. The robot will take samples of the surface and photograph what it can in an effort to learn about the origins of the Solar System and try and establish if current hypotheses about the roles comets play, for example comets seeding other planets with chemicals necessary for life, are correct.

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Images courtesy of ESA

References

BBC, (2014). Rosetta: concerns for comet lander after uneven landing. [online] Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-30034060 [Accessed 13 Nov. 2014].

ESA, (2014). [image] Available at: http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images [Accessed 13 Nov. 2014].

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