Scientists hope sun’s rays will recharge Philae

European Space Agency mission controllers put the Philae lander into stand-by mode early yesterday after its batteries ran out of power. Picture: AP
European Space Agency mission controllers put the Philae lander into stand-by mode early yesterday after its batteries ran out of power. Picture: AP
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SCIENTISTS tracking the dishwasher-size craft they landed on a comet hope the sun’s rays will reawaken it after dwindling power forced the probe into sleep mode yesterday.

The European Space Agency (ESA) said it had managed to rotate Philae slightly in the hope that solar panels could catch more light to recharge the batteries.

However, it does not know if the 35-degree twist and 4in lift will be enough to capture sufficient light as comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko gets closer to the sun.

Mission controllers lost contact with the lander at 12.30am yesterday, and said it could be weeks – or even months – before they hear from the craft.

This is because its landing site – half a mile away from the planned location – gets much less sunshine. At 10am, a scheduled communications attempt by the Rosetta orbiter, which carried Philae to the comet 311 million miles from Earth, produced nothing.

Paolo Ferri, ESA’s head of mission operations, said: “It is highly unlikely we will establish any kind of communication any time soon, but nevertheless the orbiter will continue to listen for possible signals.”

Before going into standby mode, the probe managed to send back data and drill a 10in hole to extract samples, scientists said.

Philae made history on Wednesday when it became the first craft to touch down on a comet after a ten-year, four-billion-mile journey across the solar system.

But in a roller-coaster landing, the probe bounced twice because two harpoons which were supposed to anchor it to the ground failed to deploy.

This caused the probe to shoot half a mile back into space after its initial touchdown, before coming to rest on at least two of its spidery legs, inside a crater.

Lander manager Stephan Ulamec, at ESA’s space operations centre at Darmstadt in Germany, said: “It has been a huge success, the whole team is delighted. We still hope that at a later stage of the mission, perhaps when we are nearer to the sun, we might have enough solar illumination to wake up the lander and re-establish communication.”

A tweet from the official Philae lander account before contact was lost said: “I’ll tell you more about my new home, comet 67P soon... zzzzz.”

The ESA operations centre affectionately tweeted: “Our lander’s asleep: Good night, @Philae2014.”

High-resolution images from the orbiter are being studied in an effort to find Philae’s final landing site.