Stuck in a cliff: Uncertain future for Philae lander – – Our News, Your Views

Stuck in a cliff: Uncertain future for Philae lander

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After traveling more than 300 million miles away from its home planet and catching up with comet 67P somewhere in the far reaches of space, the Rosetta spaceship released its precious cargo, the Philae lander, at 8:35 GMT on Wednesday morning.

The lander’s mission was to dock with the hurtling rock using an anchoring harpoon system, to secure itself on the comet’s ultra-low gravity surface.

The harpoons, for some reason yet unknown, did not fire.

Because of this failure, Philae bounced off the comet’s softer- than – expected surface and floated about for nearly 2 hours before coming back down. This delay meant that by the time the probe descended again, the comet had rotated, so the intended landing spot was missed.

Upon touchdown, it bounced off again and ended up resting on its side on an cliff side and with a leg up in the air.

This awkward position means two things: one, the slightest movement may shift it and make it topple over completely, thus effectively ending the mission, and two, the probe’s solar-powered batteries will not be able to receive the expected 6-7 hours of sunlight to properly recharge, which may prompt the lander to go into hibernation mode.

Mission controllers now face some tough decisions. They may try moving the probe to a sunnier spot, but doing this may topple it over -or worse still, knock it off the rock altogether.

Still, the probe’s systems appear to be working well. The Rosetta mothership picked up its signal, and Philae has been beaming up photographs and other data.

Its primary batteries will last for 60 hours, after which time, it will switch to its main batteries. These need to be recharged via solar arrays, but the probe’s shadowy location may prevent, or at least hinder, this process. If power runs out, it will enter hibernation mode.

Stay tuned to TheLiberal for further updates.

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