Philae Lander Makes History

Photo Courtesy: European Space Agency
Michael Nisip / Managing Editor

After more than ten years and four billion miles, the European Space Agency’s “Philae” Comet Lander successfully made contact with comet 67P as part of the Rosetta mission. The satellite space probe ricocheted off the comet’s surface twice before coming to rest in a chasm, a half-mile from the targeted landing site.

While the initial landing was softer than planned (.38 m/sec compared to 1 m/sec), the satellite’s harpoons failed to deploy.  The harpoons were designed to anchor the robot to the comet’s surface. Due to the inadequate amount of sunlight in the chasm, Philae’s solar panels cannot charge its batteries, and is therefore currently in standby mode. However, the Rosetta spacecraft is still orbiting the comet and collecting and transmitting critical data to the ESA.

Philae’s objective was to sample data about the comet’s composition and transmit the data to Rosetta, which would subsequently transmit the data back to Earth. Fortunately, Philae’s batteries were able to sustain the spacecraft’s operations for approximately 57 hours prior to entering standby mode. Thanks to the efforts of thousands of people and two very special spacecraft, we now have more data than ever about comets, and have made history for the future of space exploration.