Scientists will try to contact hiding Philae lander tomorrow

LoginRegister@indiatimesLoginRegister@indiatimesScientists will try to contact hiding Philae lander tomorrowTomorrow, on 12 March, at about 9:30 AM local time in India, another attempt will be made to find the lost comet lander Philae. About 500 million kilometers away from Earth, Rosetta the spacecraft orbiting comet 67/P will switch on its communication instrument to listen in if Philae has woken up and started transmitting signals.

“Philae currently receives about twice as much solar energy as it did in November last year,” says Lander Project Manager Stephan Ulamec from the German Aerospace Center (DLR). “It will probably still be too cold for the lander to wake up, but it is worth trying. The prospects will improve with each passing day.”

In August last year, European Space Agency spacecraft Rosetta reached the comet called 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko after a 10 year long chase. In November it released the small comet lander Philae which bounced a couple of times off the comets frozen and rocky surface and then settled in an unknown location.

Several conditions must be met for Philae to start operating again and allow the DLR Lander Control Center to put it to work. First, the interior of the lander must be at least at minus 45 degrees Celsius before Philae can wake up from its winter sleep. At its new landing site – Abydos – only a little sunlight reaches Philae, and the temperatures are significantly lower than at the originally planned landing location.

In addition, the lander must be able to generate at least 5.5 watts using its solar panels to wake up. It has not remained idle during hibernation.

“Philae is designed so that, since November 2014, it has been using all the available solar energy to heat up,” says Koen Geurts from the DLR Control Center. As soon as Philae ‘realises’ that it is receiving more than 5.5 watts of power and its internal temperature is above minus 45 degrees Celsius, it will turn on, heat up further and attempt to charge its battery. Once awakened, Philae switches on its receiver every 30 minutes and listens for a signal from the Rosetta orbiter. This, too, can be performed in a very low power state.

“If we cannot establish contact with Philae before 20 March, we will make another attempt at the next opportunity,” says Ulamec. As the distance to the Sun decreases, the energy that the lander collects with its solar panels is becoming greater. “Once we can communicate with Philae again, the scientific work can begin.”

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