Philae Mission May be Done

by

PARIS — Europe’s Philae lander went into a likely permanent hibernation on Nov. 15, some 57 hours after first touching down on Comet 67P, but not before sending a scheduled cache of science data, relayed to Earth via Europe’s Rosetta comet-chaser spacecraft orbiting overhead, the European Space Agency said.

In a statement, the agency said Philae “returned all of its housekeeping data, as well as science data from the targeted instruments. This completed the measurements planned for the final block of experiments on the surface.”

Philae’s final resting place after bouncing twice on the comet’s surface after landing remains a mystery, but pictures taken from it show it appears to be on the side of a cliff with no more than 90 minutes of sun exposure each 12-hour day.

ESA said it had sent commands to lift Philae by 4 centimeters and rotate it about 35 degrees in an attempt to better orient its solar arrays, but it is unclear if the maneuver succeeded.

The mothership will continue to check for signs of life, but the power requirements for Philae to reactivate are likely more than can be captured by the solar arrays at the current location. “Given the low recharge current coming from the solar panels at this time, it is unlikely that contact will be re-established with the lander in the near future,” ESA said in its statement.

Scientists have yet to analyze the last trove of data, sent just before Philae’s power depleted and also just before Rosetta’s orbit took it beyond communications range of the lander. ESA said Philae’s drilling instrument had been deployed, however.