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Philae, the Little Comet Lander that Could, Wakes Up

Philae, the Little Comet Lander that Could, Wakes Up

Last November we landed a washing machine-sized box of science on a comet (comet 67P to be exact). This box, named Philae, was the culmination 87,000 hours of spaceflight, but when it landed on comet 67P, it had only 60 hours to work with. The landing didn’t quite go according to plan — little Philae bounced a kilometer up into the wispy atmosphere of comet 67P and landed in a shadowed crater. It had some time, but soon the lack of sunlight would force the solar-powered lander into hibernation. Less than three days after it landed, Philae went to sleep, and scientists at the European Space Agency (ESA) didn’t know if it would ever wake up.

Late Saturday night, Philae woke up.

The ESA reports that last night Philae “spoke” with scientists back on Earth (via its spacecraft Rosetta) for 85 seconds, sending back 300 “packets” of data.

“Philae is doing very well: It has an operating temperature of -35ºC and has 24 Watts available,” said Philae Project Manager Dr. Stephan Ulamec. “The lander is ready for operations.”

An awake Philae is great news. Though the lander completed much of the science it set out to do — analyzing surface and atmospheric composition, taking photos, measuring magnetic fields — there is still a wellspring of data, 8,000 packets-worth, in its banks that never got to transmit home.

Since Philae’s hibernation, comet 67P has moved closer to the Sun, ostensibly offering enough sunlight to wake it up. But the lander appears to have woken up before last night. Historical data now available indicates that Philae was functioning earlier than June 13th, but unable to phone home. Now we’re listening.

We can hear you little lander, loud and clear. Let’s get to work.

IMAGE: European Space Agency

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