Comet probe Phi­lae di­als home, ‘do­ing very well’

The China Post - - ARTS & LEISURE -

Europe’s ro­bot lab Phi­lae phoned home on Fri­day af­ter sev­eral days si­lence in its jour­ney to­wards the Sun on the back of a comet and is “do­ing very well,” the Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR) said.

The latest con­tact lasted 19 min­utes and is the third time that Phi­lae has touched base with Earth since it landed on Comet 67P/ Churyu­mov-Gerasi­menko on Nov. 12 af­ter pig­gy­back­ing on its moth­er­ship Rosetta.

The mis­sion seeks

to un­lock the long-held se­crets of comets — pri­mor­dial clus­ters of ice and dust that sci­en­tists be­lieve may re­veal how the So­lar Sys­tem was formed.

Af­ter land­ing on the comet, Phi­lae had used its stored bat­tery power to send home reams of data be­fore go­ing into standby mode.

The hope was that as the comet ap­proaches the sun, so­lar energy would recharge Phi­lae’s bat­ter­ies enough for it to re­boot, make con­tact and ul­ti­mately re­sume sci­en­tific work.

It fi­nally

took seven months be­fore Phi­lae woke up on June 13 from hi­ber­na­tion and made con­tact with Earth for two min­utes. It re­ported back again just two days af­ter that first con­tact.

On Fri­day, Phi­lae trans­mit­ted 185 data pack­ets back to Earth be­tween 1320 and 1339 GMT.

“Among other things, we have re­ceived up­dated sta­tus in­for­ma­tion,” Michael Maibaum, a sys­tems engi­neer at the DLR Lan­der Con­trol Cen­ter in Cologne.

“At present, the lan­der is op­er­at­ing at a tem­per­a­ture of zero de­grees Cel­sius, which means that the bat­tery is now warm enough to store energy. This means that Phi­lae will also be able to work dur­ing the comet’s night, re­gard­less of so­lar il­lu­mi­na­tion.”

The data trans­mit­ted also shows that the amount of sun­light avail­able had in­creased.

“More so­lar pan­els were il­lu­mi­nated; at the end of con­tact, four of Phi­lae’s pan­els were re­ceiv­ing energy,” said the DLR state­ment.

“The con­tact has con­firmed that Phi­lae is do­ing very well,” it added.

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