Philae found!


Less than a month before Rosetta’s mission ends the spacecraft’s high resolution camera has finally located Philae in its final resting spot on the surface of Comet 67P/C-G.

The images were taken on 2 September by the OSIRIS narrow-angle camera as the orbiter came within 2.7 km of the surface and clearly show the main body of the lander, along with two of its three legs. The images also provide proof of Philae’s orientation, making it clear why establishing communications was so difficult following its landing on 12 November 2014.

The image on the right clearly shows the lander on its side with one leg sticking up, as theorized by the Rosetta engineers based on the small amount of data they had received before Philae went dead. Furthermore, the wide image at the link above shows that the lander landed exactly as predicted by data, up against a wall — in this case a large boulder — which placed it in shadow most of the time.

Rosetta says goodbye to Philae

The Rosetta science team has decided to shut off tomorrow the communications equipment the spacecraft uses in its continuing attempts to re-establish communications with its Philae lander.

Switching off the ESS is part of the preparations for Rosetta’s end of mission. By the end of July 2016, the spacecraft will be some 520 million km from the Sun, and will start facing a significant loss of power – about 4W per day. In order to continue scientific operations over the next two months and to maximise their return, it became necessary to start reducing the power consumed by the non-essential payload components on board.

Though until now they have never stopped trying to contact Philae, they have heard nothing since July 2015. Moreover, the recent close sweeps down to the comet’s surface have failed so far to locate the lander. Unless they are holding back the lander’s discovery for a big splash press conference, it appears that we will never known exactly where the lander touched down.

That is, we will never know. Someday, many decades in the future, some asteroid/comet mining operation will show up and find it. I hope at that time they will carefully pack it up and bring it back for humans to admire as a testament to our human ability to push the unknown. Even better, I hope they put it in the “History of Space” museum, located not on Earth but on Mars, built to educate the children of the colonists who are making possible the expansion of humanity out to the stars.

Rosetta’s landing site chosen

Rosetta's end

The Rosetta science team has chosen the spacecraft’s landing site on Comet 67P/C-G. The picture on the right shows this region, dubbed Ma’at, located on the comet’s smaller lobe. I also note that this decision makes no mention of Philae, and that there has been no word from the scientists on whether their recent close-up imagery of the comet has located the lander.

I had hoped that they would find it and then aim the final descent toward it, but this apparently is not happening.

An update on Philae

Link here. No big news. The lander remains silent, and has not yet been precisely located on the surface, though they have a pretty good idea where it is. They expect to get images of it on the surface sometime before September, when Rosetta’s mission will end with its own attempted touchdown on Comet 67P/C-G.

The final search for Philae

This review of the journey of Rosetta’s lander Philae, now dead on the surface of Comet 67P/C-G, includes information about the science’s team upcoming last effort to locate the lander.

The comet’s level of activity is now decreasing, allowing Rosetta to safely and gradually reduce its distance to the comet again,” says Sylvain Lodiot, ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft operations manager. “Eventually we will be able to fly in ‘bound orbits’ again, approaching to within 10–20 km – and even closer in the final stages of the mission – putting us in a position to fly above Abydos close enough to obtain dedicated high-resolution images to finally locate Philae and understand its attitude and orientation.”

“Determining Philae’s location would also allow us to better understand the context of the incredible in situ measurements already collected, enabling us to extract even more valuable science from the data,” says Matt Taylor, ESA’s Rosetta project scientist.

They intend to try to re-establish communications with the lander, but do not have much expectations that it is able to function.

Philae officially dead

After another attempt to contact Rosetta’s lander Philae ended with no response, engineers now consider the spacecraft dead

“We did not hear anything,” says lander manager Stephan Ulamec. In the best-case scenario, Philae may have received the command and moved, but be unable to respond due to a damaged transmitter. It is more likely that the signal was not received. The team will try a few more commands, but it looks like Philae has officially gone. “We have to face reality, and chances get less and less every day as we are getting farther and farther away from the sun,” says Ulamec. “At some point we have to accept we will not get signals from Philae anymore.”


One last chance for Philae

With time running out as Comet 67P/C-G moves away from the Sun, the Rosetta engineering team is going to try one more time to contact the lander Philae.

The lander team are going to try another method to trigger a reponse from Philae: on 10 January they will send a command, via Rosetta, to attempt to make Philae’s momentum wheel switch on. “Time is running out, so we want to explore all possibilities,” says Stephan Ulamec, Philae lander manager at DLR. Philae’s momentum wheel ensured that it was stable during its descent from the orbiter on 12 November, 2014.

If the command is successfully received and executed, the hope is that it might shift the lander’s position.”At best, the spacecraft might shake dust from its solar panels and better align itself with the Sun,” explains Philae technical manager Koen Geurts at DLR’s lander control centre.

They also believe that one of the lander’s two transmitters and one of its two receivers are broken, which makes communications difficult at best.

Planning the coming end of Rosetta

The scientists and engineers operating Rosetta have begun planning the mission’s spectacular finale, when they will spend several months orbiting within six miles of Comet 67P/C-G’s surface before very gently crashing the spacecraft on the surface.

Because of many factors, Rosetta is not expected to survive the impact, no matter how gently it lands. However, the data it will send back in its final months as it makes tighter and tighter orbits should be well worthwhile.

In related news, the science team has released an animation, posted below the fold, of their re-creation of the flight and crash landing of Philae on the comet.
» Read more

Rosetta special science issue

For those who want to read some interesting science papers, on Friday the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics published a special issue devoted to the results from Rosetta and Philae.

The issue includes 46 papers, many of which are open access and thus available at no cost to the general public. Many were published previously and include their press releases. These earlier results have already been posted here at BtB, but now they the results are gathered together in one place.

Philae landing in real time

The magic of engineering: Using the seven images Philae snapped as it made its descent to Comet 67P/C-G, engineers have created a short movie simulating what the surface would have looked like as the lander descended.

I have posted the video below the fold. Be sure to go to the link above however to find out how this was done.
» Read more

A detailed update on the efforts to contact Philae

Link here.

The story is fascinating because the lander’s behavior and response to commands has been quite puzzling. They have had about a half dozen short contacts of varying length, all interspersed with a lot of intermittencies. At the moment they have not entirely given up on Philae, since based on what they know of its location and condition it could remain functional through the end of this year. They also recognize that re-establishing contact is becoming increasingly unlikely. The big hope is that once the comet moves farther away from the sun and becomes less active, they will be able to move Rosetta in closer, when the chances of contact will improve.

All Rosetta data through Philae landing released

The Rosetta science team today released all data obtained by the mission through Philae’s landing on November 14.

If you go here you can browse all the images the spacecraft’s high resolution camera took during that time period. You might even discover something the project scientists missed in their first perusal.

Philae results published

Cool image time! The Philae science team yesterday published in Science a set of papers describing their results from the lander’s approach and bouncing landing on Comet 67P/C-G.

Data were obtained during the lander’s seven-hour descent to its first touchdown at the Agilkia landing site, which then triggered the start of a sequence of predefined experiments. But shortly after touchdown, it became apparent that Philae had rebounded and so a number of measurements were carried out as the lander took flight for an additional two hours some 100 m above the comet, before finally landing at Abydos.

Some 80% of the first science sequence was completed in the 64 hours following separation before Philae fell into hibernation, with the unexpected bonus that data were ultimately collected at more than one location, allowing comparisons between the touchdown sites.

The images from lander so far released show the approach to the first site, with one boulder getting larger and larger as it descends, followed by images at the final landing site, showing a fractured, uneven, and very rough surface with the lander apparently sitting sideways with one foot off the ground.

An animation of the first touchdown, created by these images, can be viewed here.

Update: A good summary of the results can be read here.

Philae status update

Engineers on the Rosetta team are struggling to figure out why they cannot get a solid communications lock with their Philae lander, and have come up with several explanations.

One possible explanation being discussed at DLR’s Lander Control Center is that the position of Philae may have shifted slightly, perhaps by changing its orientation with respect to the surface in its current location. The lander is likely situated on uneven terrain, and even a slight change in its position – perhaps triggered by gas emission from the comet – could mean that its antenna position has also now changed with respect to its surroundings. This could have a knock-on effect as to the best position Rosetta needs to be in to establish a connection with the lander.

Another separate issue under analysis is that one of the two transmission units of the lander appears not to be working properly, in addition to the fact that one of the two receiving units is damaged. Philae is programmed to switch periodically back and forth between these two transmission units, and after tests on the ground reference model, the team has sent a command to the lander to make it work with just one transmitter. As Philae is able to receive and accept commands of this kind in the “blind”, it should execute it as soon as it is supplied with solar energy during the comet’s day.

They have heard from Philae since July 9. Because of comet activity they have had to pull Rosetta back away from the nucleus to protect it, and are now focusing its primary activity on observations, not communications with Philae. They will continue to try to bring Philae back to full functioning life, but the priority is now the comet.

New radio communications from Philae

On July 9 Philae successfully transmitted data to Rosetta for the first time in more than two weeks.

Although the connection failed repeatedly after that, it remained completely stable for those 12 minutes. “This sign of life from Philae proves to us that at least one of the lander’s communication units remains operational and receives our commands,” said Koen Geurts, a member of the lander control team at DLR Cologne.

The mood had been mixed over the last few days; Philae had not communicated with the team in the DLR Lander Control Center (LCC) since 24 June 2015. After an initial test command to turn on the power to CONSERT on 5 July 2015, the lander did not respond. Philae’s team began to wonder if the lander had survived on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

The intermittent nature of Philae’s attempts at communication are puzzling. Normally, they either would have communications or they would not. For good communications to break off like this repeatedly is puzzling. It is almost as if there is a loose wire causing communications to go on and off, which seems an unlikely explanation for this problem.

An update on Rosetta’s effort to re-establish contact with Philae

This update describes the status of the effort by the Rosetta science team to re-establish a stable communications channel with the Philae lander on the surface of Comet 67P/C-G.

Confirmed contacts between Rosetta and Philae have been made on 13, 14, 19, 20, 21, 23, and 24 June, but were intermittent during those contact periods. For example, the contact on 19 June was stable but split into two short periods of two minutes each. Conversely, the contact on 24 June started at 17:20 UT (on board Rosetta) and ran for 20 minutes, but the quality of the link was very patchy and only about 80 packets of telemetry were received. Prior to this, on Tuesday, 23 June, there was a 20-second contact, but no stable link was established and consequently no telemetry data were received.

There are many reasons why the contacts have been so intermittent, much of it related to Philae’s position on the surface. To improve things, they are carefully adjusting Rosetta’s position relative to the comet while avoiding placing the spacecraft in a position where the coma’s dust will cause problems.

Philae contacts Rosetta again

Philae today sent another 2 minutes worth of information to Rosetta.

The downlink was stable; the two contacts received by Rosetta lasted two minutes each. Both delivered numerous packets of lander housekeeping and status data, 185 in total, which are still being analysed at the time of this writing. No science data were anticipated or received.

Rosetta repositions to improve contact with Philae

Engineers have begun shifting Rosetta’s trajectory paralleling Comet 67P/C-G in order to maximize communications with the lander Philae.

Commands to adjust the trajectory were successfully uploaded Monday evening; further commands will be uplinked on Thursday evening. The spacecraft will perform two manoeuvres, one on Wednesday morning and the second on Saturday morning. The effect of the two ‘dog-leg’ burns will be to bring the orbiter to a distance of 180 km from the comet and to reproduce the orbiter-comet geometry of the first contact.

We should therefore not expect further news from Philae for the rest of this week.

Philae returns to life!

After more than six months of silence after its bouncing landing on Comet 67P/C-G, Rosetta’s Philae comet lander has awakened and resumed communications with the science team.

More details here. The data they have so far received, which is still being analyzed, suggests that the lander has awakened previously and gathered data at that time. More to come!

Is this Philae?


Cool image time! The Rosetta science team has spent much effort trying to locate Philae, which attempted to land on Comet 67P/C-G in November. The image on the right shows what they think is their best candidate, the bright feature in the center. It was not there prior to Philae’s landing attempt.

Because there are many uncertainties, however, this might not be Philae.

Ultimately, a definitive identification of this or any other candidate as being Philae will require higher-resolution imaging, in turn meaning closer flybys. This may not be possible in the near-term, as issues encountered in navigating close to the comet mean that the opportunity to make flybys at significantly less than 20 km from the surface may be on hold until later in the mission. But after the comet’s activity has subsided, Rosetta should be able to safely operate in close proximity to the comet nucleus again.

The other possibility of further refining Philae’s location would come if the lander were to receive enough power to wake-up from its hibernation and resume its scientific study of 67P/C-G. Then, CONSERT could be used to perform additional ranging measurements and significantly reduce the uncertainties on the lander’s location. At the moment, Philae is still in hibernation, but the mission team remain hopeful that, as the comet moves closer to the Sun along its orbit, the lander will receive enough power in the coming weeks or months to wake up and transmit a signal to Rosetta.

Rosetta team adopts new approach strategy

Because of the problems Rosetta experienced during its last close fly-by of Comet 67P/C-G the engineering team has worked out a new approach strategy for future observations.

Essentially, they are postponing any close fly-bys for the near future. Instead, they will observe from farther away, while reassessing the situation and planing for later opportunities.

Meanwhile, on April 12 the next opportunity to listen for Philae begins.

Rosetta’s first attempt to contact Philae ends with no contact

After eight days of sending signals, listening for Philae, and getting no response, Rosetta has ceased its effort.

“It was a very early attempt; we will repeat this process until we receive a response from Philae,” says DLR Project Manager Stephan Ulamec. “We have to be patient.” On 20 March 2015 at 05:00 CET, the communication unit on the Rosetta orbiter was switched off. Now, the DLR team is calculating when the next favourable alignment between the orbiter and the lander will occur, and will then listen again for a signal from Philae. The next chance to receive a signal from the lander is expected to occur during the first half of April.

They always knew that it was unlikely for the lander to come alive this soon, but they tried anyway. The odds improve, however, in the coming months.

New areas of Comet 67P/C-G come out of the shadows

Comet 67P/C-G's smaller lobe

Rosetta has snapped a new image of Comet 67P/C-G’s smaller lobe that not only shows the increased activity around the nucleus but captures areas of the comet that had formally been in darkness. The image also includes the region where engineers think Philae landed, which I think is the area just below the brightest flat area in the center of the lobe. That this area is now in daylight is why engineers are hopeful that Philae might soon wake up.

Monitoring for a signal from Philae to begin this week

Beginning on Thursday Rosetta engineers will start searching for a signal from their lander Philae, hidden somewhere on the surface of Comet 67P/C-G.

The likelihood of getting an answer this soon is not high, but the lander is now getting about twice as much sunlight as it did when it landed in November. There is a chance it will warm up enough and get enough stored power to come to life.

Update on Philae on Comet 67P/C-G

The Rosetta team has provided a detailed update describing their so far unsuccessful search for Philae on the surface of Comet 67P/C-G.

In addition, the update also looks into the possibility that Philae might wake up in the late spring when the comet’s orbit and rotation changes enough so its solar panels are more exposed to the Sun.

Bottom line: Don’t expect them to find the lander from images. Right now it is a mere three pixels in size. And whether it will come back to life as well also remains unknown.

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