New Communication With Philae, Commands Executed Successfully

Control center for Philae. Image Credit: DLR

Control center for Philae. Image Credit: DLR

July 10, 2015 – The Philae lander communicated with the Rosetta orbiter again between 19:45 and 20:07 CEST on July 9, 2015 and transmitted measurement data from the COmet Nucleus Sounding Experiment by Radiowave Transmission (CONSERT) instrument. Although the connection failed repeatedly after that, it remained completely stable for those 12 minutes.

“This sign of life from Philae proves to us that at least one the lander’s communication units remains operational and receives out commands,” said German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) engineer Koen Geurts, a member of the lander control team at DLR Cologne.

The mood had been mixed over the last few days; Philae had not communicated with the team in the DLR Lander Control Center (LCC) since June 24, 2015. After an initial test command to turn on the power to CONSERT on July 5, 2015, the lander did not respond. Philae’s team began to wonder if the lander had survived on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Commanded from the ground successfully

“We never gave up on Philae and remained optimistic,” said Geurts.

There was great excitement when Philae ‘reported in’ on June 13, 2015 after seven months of hibernation and sent data about its health. The lander was ready to perform its tasks, 300 million kilometres away from Earth. However, Philae has to communicate with the ground stations through Rosetta, which acts as a radio relay. Restrictions on the orbiter’s approach to and orbit around the comet have not permitted regular communication with the lander. The data sent on June 24 did not suggest that the lander had experienced technical difficulties.

Now, Philae’s internal temperature of zero degrees Celsius gives the team hope that the lander can charge its batteries; this would make scientific work possible regardless of the ‘time of day’ on the comet.

Currently, DLR’s lander team is evaluating the data that were received.

“We can already see that the CONSERT instrument was successfully activated by the command we sent on 9 July,” explained Geurts. “We do not yet have an explanation for why the lander has communicated now, but not over the past few days.”

The trajectory of the orbiter, for example, has not changed over the last three weeks. However, one thing is certain – Philae has survived the harsh conditions on the comet and is responding to commands from the LCC team.

“This is extremely good news for us,” said Geurts.

Rosetta is an ESA mission with contributions from its member states and NASA. Rosetta’s Philae lander is provided by a consortium led by the German Aerospace Center, Cologne; Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Gottingen; French National Space Agency, Paris; and the Italian Space Agency, Rome. JPL, a Division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the U.S. contribution of the Rosetta mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. JPL also built the MIRO and hosts its principal investigator, Samuel Gulkis.

The Southwest Research Institute (San Antonio and Boulder), developed the Rosetta orbiter’s IES and Alice instruments, and hosts their principal investigators, James Burch (IES) and Alan Stern (Alice).