The Rosetta scientists are going to try to make it hop out of the shadow, but it sounds like a long shot.
Scientists controlling the Philae lander on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko are preparing to make a last ditch attempt to “hop” the robotic probe into a sunnier spot on the comet’s surface.
If they fail, the lander will go into hibernation. Without sufficient sunlight on its solar panels, its mission will be over.
The lander’s legs have a built-in spring action that can be commanded to fire. These commands will be uploaded tonight during an expected communications window that opens at around 21:00 GMT. There is no guarantee of success.
Yeah no kidding. Where’s the complaint desk we could go to if there were a guarantee?
The odds don’t seem good. It’s lying on its side with one leg up in the air, in the shadow of a boulder or cliff. They’ve tried things to make it move and they haven’t worked.
But. It’s still done most of what was hoped for.
Philae’s primary mission was always designed to last around 60 hours. Engineers then covered the spacecraft in solar panels in the hope that sunlight could recharge a set of secondary batteries and extend the mission for months.
Despite the awkward landing, Stephan Ulamec, Philae lander manager, DLR, estimates that 80% of the science Esa was hoping for has been achieved. If the current drilling operation works and Philae delivers samples to one of its onboard instruments, that will rise to 90%.
That’s pretty good when you consider it’s 4 km in diameter and millions of km away. Dropping the Rover on Mars looks like a walk to the grocery store in comparison.
If the attempts at moving the lander do not work, then tonight’s communications window will almost certainly be the last one in which the scientists can talk to the lander. But all might not be lost forever.
The comet is currently out beyond the orbit of Mars, heading for its closest approach to the sun in August 2015. This will bring it as close to the sun as Earth’s orbit. There the sunlight will be brighter and may just allow Philae to re-boot and power up.
Good luck, Philae.