Rosetta scientists confident that Philae lander will reactivate early next year

Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Scientists involved with the ESA’s Rosetta mission say there is “no doubt” that the now-dormant Philae lander will wake up, and that it will be “in good shape” once it receives enough sunlight to recharge its depleted battery.
Philae, which fell into ”idle mode” a little over a month ago (but not before confirming the existence of organic molecules on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko), came to rest between two shadowy cliffs that limited the amount of sunlight its solar panels received.
Initially, it was getting just 1.5 hours of sunlight per day, but members of the ESA’s Rosetta team told National Geographic on Wednesday that it was now receiving three times that amount. However, even 4.5 hours of sunlight fall short of the six to seven hours that the agency expected the craft to receive before a rough landing caused it to miss its intended destination.
In comments made during the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco, lead lander scientist Jean-Pierre Bibring of Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale in Orsay, France said that he was confident that Philae would reactivate once Comet 67P/C-G moved closer to the sun.
“Pessimistically, it will be after Easter; [optimistically], it will be much prior to that,” perhaps as early as February, Bibring said at the event, according to Space.com. “It all depends on how the sun will go over the horizon, the local horizon.”
Part of the uncertainty surrounding the situation is the fact that the mission team is still not completely certain where the probe actually landed. They have user cameras onboard the Rosetta orbiter to search for it, recently completing a three-day survey of the region where Philae is believed to have landed, but have yet to pinpoint where it finally came to rest on the comet.
The extreme cold on the comet’s surface should not be an issue for the lander, as Philae and its suite of 10 instruments were designed to function in such frigid conditions, Bibring said. The primary concern is that some of its electronics have been damaged, but the lead lander scientist said that he is optimistic since it proved capable of surviving a 10-year voyage through space.
Philae, which bounced twice before finally settling down on the surface of Comet 67P/C-G, might have accidentally wound up in a fortuitous setting for scientific research, Bibring noted. It came to rest in an ice-covered terrain that is “loaded with organics,” he explained, and the project’s science team is eager to conduct lengthy investigations of the surrounding environment.
Prior to falling silent in mid-November, Philae was able to transmit all of the science data it had collected to date, as well as black-and-white photos it had captured after it had come to rest. Its mothership, Rosetta, is scheduled to travel with the comet through the end of 2015, remaining in orbit and collecting data as 67P/C-G approaches the sun, the moves further out into deep space.
However, Space.com reported that team members are considering the possibility of extending Rosetta’s mission into 2016. Furthermore, project scientist Matt Taylor said that he and his colleagues would prefer to land the orbiter on the comet once it exhausts its fuel supply. He told the website that it “appears to be more compelling to do this spiraling in.”
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