More than a year ago, the Philae lander made history as the first man-made object to land on a moving comet. Now, though, scientists have stopped sending commands to the probe, and it seems this part of the mission is over.
The Aerospace Centre in Germany confirmed no more messages would be sent, and that any further contact from Philae would be, in their words, “very surprising”.
Although Philae’s mission has been seen as a great success, from the very beginning things didn’t run to plan. Its anchoring systems – designed to hold it in place on the surface – never fired accurately, and subsequently, the probe settled in the wrong place.
Coming to rest in a shaded spot, the lander was deprived of the power of the sun to help run its systems properly.
Having lost power for some months Philae had ‘woken up’ last June as the comet moved closer to the sun. Hopes for a sustained revival, however, were dashed soon after.
European scientists now believe the probe is covered in meteorite dust, in a cold spot on the comet and is unlikely to come back to live. It’s been a while since successful contact was last made – July 9th of last year.
A last desperate message was sent up to Philae last month, but with no response it seems the lander’s source of power – its solar panels – are inoperable.
Notwithstanding the loss, scientists now have reams of data on the meteor itself, some stunning images, and years of work ahead to analyse it all. The comet, 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, originates in the Kuiper belt and has a current orbital period of 6.5 years. It measures approximately 2.5 by 2.7 miles across.
The Rosetta spacecraft – which launched the lander – will itself be landed on the comet later this year in an operation that will conclude the mission. NASA collaborated with the European Space Agency combined to make the Rosetta mission possible.