Philae, the European Space Agency’s comet lander, has made a second contact on Sunday night, a day after waking up from seven-month hibernation.
The washing-machine-sized lander beamed back to Earth five units of data Sunday through its mothership’ Rosetta, its controllers announced Monday.
Philae made history in late November when it managed to touch down on a moving comet, named 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Though the landing was bumpy due to a technical problem at its harpoons, the probe managed to transmit data for nearly 60 hours before it batteries died.
Back then, Rosetta mission engineers hoped that as the icy comet would move closer to the sun the lander’s solar panels could draw enough solar energy to charge the batteries and get the probe going. And that just happened over the course of the weekend to just about everyone’s surprise.
Philae turned back to life Saturday when it transmitted a faint signal through Rosetta, which orbits the comet at about a 125 to 150 mile range. And on Sunday night, the lander sent back five units of data, Rosetta mission team reported.
But after the awakening, communications were scrambled. Rosetta engineers believe that it has something to do with Rosetta moving too far away from the lander.
“Now we have the green light from all the scientists and from the mission manager to optimize everything we can do for Philae contact,”
said Sylvain Lodiot, Rosetta Spacecraft Operations Manager.
As of Wednesday, engineers plan to move Rosetta closer to Philae and bring it within a 112 mile distance from the lander. Scientists explained that they planned to do that move regardless of Philae’s ability of waking up.
Controllers said that the data Philae beamed over the weekend was mostly systems information and “housekeeping” data. In order to get scientific data on the comet and continue with the experiments, engineers need to find a way to improve transmission and send fresh commands. They said that that would take a few more days.
When the communications will be finally restored, ESA scientists hope to learn where exactly did the probe land back in November. For seven months, its whereabouts remained largely unknown and controllers had thin hopes of it coming back from hibernation state.
In March, April, and May, Rosetta mission team tried to make contact with the lander but all in vain since its main battery was not sufficiently recharged to reboot Philae. So, mission controllers said Sunday that they were surprised to see it unexpectedly come to its senses, especially “on a weekend.”
Image Source: Links through Space (blog)