BERLIN (AP) – The head of the European comet mission says scientists were listening for signals from the Philae lander Saturday morning, but think it is unlikely they will establish any kind of communication soon.
Controllers at the European Space Agency on Friday ordered the lander to perform a manoeuvre intended to pull it out of a shadow on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko so that solar panels could recharge the depleted batteries.
“We don’t know if the charge will ever be high enough to operate the lander again,” Paolo Ferri, ESA’s head of mission operations, told The Associated Press.
“It is highly unlikely that we will establish any kind of communication any time soon, but nevertheless the orbiter will continue to listen for possible signals – the next time they will do so at 11am (1000GMT, 5am EST) this morning.”
On Thursday, Philae landed next to a cliff that largely blocked sunlight from reaching its solar panels. The historic landing climaxed a 10-year journey aboard the Rosetta space probe.
Since alighting on the comet, some 311 million miles (500 million kilometres) distant from Earth, the lander has performed a series of tests and sent back reams of data, including photos.
On Friday, the spacecraft was given commands to rotate itself to catch more sunlight and to drill a hole into the comet.
“We know that all the movements of the operation were performed and all the data was sent down,” Ferri said Saturday. “However, at this point we do not even know if it really succeeded and if it (the drill) even touched the ground during the drilling operation.”
Material beneath the surface of the comet has remained almost unchanged for 4.5 billion years, so the samples would be a cosmic time capsule that scientists are eager to study.
Scientists hope the $1.6 billion (1.3 billion-euro) project will help answer questions about the origins of the universe and life on Earth. Communication with the lander has been slow, with signals taking more than 28 minutes to travel between Earth and Rosetta.
Scientists say they already have gathered huge amounts of data and are calling the first-ever comet landing a roaring success.
“Let’s stop looking at things that we could have done if everything had worked properly,” flight director Andrea Accomazzo said Friday.