Philae's phinal phling: Germans made weekend spin-up attempt

If this didn't work, the plucky lander is days away from bricking

The Deutsches Zentrum für Luft-und Raumfahrt e.V, better known as the German Aerospace Center (DLR) yesterday made what it says is probably its all-but-final attempt to wake the Philae lander on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Readers will doubtless recall that Philae accompanied the Rosetta probe on its journey to Comet 67P and then landed on the comet. But the landing didn't go well: the probe bounced a few times and landed in a shady spot where it could not recharge its batteries. It therefore ran out of power for several months, before briefly reviving to send home some more data about comet climate.

But there's been nothing since July 2015 and, as the DLR writes, things are about to get nasty on 67P because it will soon be more than 300 million kilometres from the Sun, which means temperatures are on the way down. So far down that the temperature is expected to plummet to around minus 51 degrees Celsius, at which point Philae will cease to operate.

Hence the DLR's Sunday attempt to spin up Philae's flywheel.

It's hoped that if Philae can receive the command to operate the flywheel, and the device works, that it might either tilt the craft onto an angle that will allow its solar panels to do better work or shake some dust off the panels.

DLR boffins aren't optimistic: it's known that one of each of the craft's two receivers and transmitters is broken and that the remaining radios aren't fully functional. But they figure it's worth the effort seeing as it is not every day you land a probe on a comet.

Even if this attempt fails, the team's not giving up on Philae. Rosetta will keep listening for a signal until its own demise, planned for September 2016 in a planned inelegant landing manoeuvre. ®


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