Comet lander Philae awakes from hibernation

French President Francois Hollande, center, with French astrophysicist Francis Rocard look at a model of Rosetta lander Philae.(AP Photo/Jacques Brinon, Pool, file)

By FRANK JORDANS

BERLIN (AP) — The comet lander Philae has awakened from a seven-month hibernation and managed to communicate with Earth for more than a minute, the European Space Agency said Sunday.

The probe became the first spacecraft to land on a comet when it touched down on the icy surface of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in November. After its historic landing Philae managed to conduct experiments and send data to Earth for about 60 hours before its batteries were depleted and it was forced to shut down its systems.

Scientists hoped the probe would wake up again as the comet approaches the sun, allowing its solar panels to charge the on-board battery.

The German Aerospace Center, DLR, which operates Philae, said the probe resumed communication at 10:28 p.m. (2028 GMT; 4:28 p.m. EDT) on Saturday, sending about 300 packages of data to Earth via its mother ship Rosetta, which is orbiting the comet.

“Philae is doing very well,” said DLR’s project manager Stephan Ulamec, adding: “The lander is ready for operations.”

Ulamec said the probe appears to have been awake for some time before it called home, because some of the packages received contained historical data.

Philae has more than 8,000 data packages still stored in its memory, which scientists hope to receive when the probe next communicates with Earth. The data contained therein may help them determine where exactly Philae has landed.

The probe’s exact location has been a mystery, though scientists have narrowed down its likely location based on images and other measurements received from Philae and Rosetta.

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Here’s a look at key moments during the mission:

March 2, 2004: Europe’s unmanned probe Rosetta takes off from Kourou, French Guiana, after a series of delays, including an abandoned January 2003 launch window because of a rocket problem.

Feb. 25, 2007: Rosetta carries out a close flyby of Mars. European Space Agency’s mission control breaks out in applause after the end of 15 tense minutes of radio silence as the craft passes behind the Red Planet.

Sept. 5, 2008: Probe successfully passes close to an asteroid 250 million miles from Earth. The spacecraft loses its radio signal for 90 minutes as planned during the flyby of the Steins asteroid, also known as Asteroid 2867.

July 10, 2010: Between Mars and Jupiter, Rosetta transmits its first pictures from the largest asteroid ever visited by a satellite after it flies by Lutetia as close as 1,900 miles (3,200 kilometers). It is the closest look to date at the Lutetia asteroid.

Jan. 20, 2014: Waking after almost three years of hibernation, Rosetta sends its first signal back to Earth. Systems had been powered down in 2011 to conserve energy, leaving scientists in the dark for 31 months.

Aug. 6, 2014: Rosetta swings alongside comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko somewhere between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

Nov. 12, 2014: The probe releases the Philae lander and it drops to the comet’s surface. Seven hours later, Philae touches down on the comet.

Nov. 15, 2014: Philae goes into hibernation after performing experiments and sending data back to Earth for 60 hours.

Feb. 14, 2015: Rosetta swoops to a distance of just 6 kilometers (less than 4 miles) above the surface of the comet to take close-up pictures of the surface.

June 11, 2015: Scientists say they may have caught a glimpse of Philae, whose exact location remains unknown. After analyzing images and other data collected over the past months they identified several possible sites including one bright spot described as “a good candidate for the lander.”

June 13, 2015: Philae communicates with Earth for the first time in seven months in a sign that it has come out of hibernation.

 

 

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