The European Space Agency (ESA) says its Rosettta probe will attempt to make contact with the “sleeping” Philae lander starting Thursday.
In 2004 when the ESA sent a craft called Rosetta in the direction of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Rosetta’s shipment included Philae, a lander intended to land, and study, the comet.
Rosetta arrived last year, entered orbit and then dropped Philae. But Philae’s harpoons failed to operate as expected. The lander bounced and came to rest in a spot where its solar panels could not see the sun. Without solar top-ups it soon ran out of power. Even if the lander was able to run its basic tests and beam back data, ESA had no choice but to put it into sleep mode.
The ESA’s hoped that Comet 67P would eventually rotate enough that sunlight would beam down upon Philae and that the lander would reactivate.
As soon as Philae ‘realizes’ that it is receiving more than 5.5 watts of power and its internal temperature is above –45°C, it will turn on, heat up further and attempt to recharge its battery.
According to Lander project manager Stephan Ulamec from the German Aerospace Center, “The agency says it thinks the time is right to ask Philae how it’s doing, because “Philae” currently receives double the solar energy as it did in November last year,”
On March 12, Rosetta started sending “wake up” commands to Philae at times the lander is estimated to be in sunlight. Mission control doesn’t know Philae exact location, but hopes that telling it to wake up will see its other programming kick in so that it sends out an automated health report.
Rosetta will try to contact Philae for eight days, especially during 11 orbits that take it close to the place the lander is thought to lie. ESA boffins don’t sound optimistic that their efforts will succeed.