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Philae lander not to become costly space junk — Russian scientist

November 18, 2014, 18:08 UTC+3 YEKATERINBURG
As soon as it moves out of the shadow and the first solar rays reach the research probe’s chargers, Philae will start to work again
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YEKATERINBURG, November 18. /TASS/. The Philae lander last week failed to get the primary matter from which the Solar system was formed billions of years ago, deputy director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ (RAS) Space Research Institute (SRI), Doctor of Physics and Mathematics Oleg Korablev told TASS on Tuesday.

Philae is a robotic European Space Agency (ESA) lander that accompanied the Rosetta spacecraft until its designated landing on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (67P), more than ten years after departing Earth. On 12 November 2014, the lander achieved the first-ever controlled touchdown on a comet nucleus.

Korablev said that the research failure was caused by the inaccurate information the scientists had about the surface of the comet nucleus.

The Space Research Institute deputy director said the lander “twice failed to fasten on the rocks on the surface of the Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet and later had difficulty with drilling into the comet nucleus.”

“The lander’s solar batteries soon depleted as it landed in the shadow of a comet rock,” Korablev said. It was initially planned to make the isotope analysis of the comet’s soil, but now the primary matter studies will be continued remotely from the Rosetta spacecraft.

Despite the problems, the most ambitious ESA project in the sphere of unmanned cosmonautics is a success, says the Russian scientist.

Meanwhile, Space Research Institute Academic Secretary, Doctor of Physics and Mathematics Aleksandr Zakharov told TASS that the Philae lander will not become costly space junk on the surface of the Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet when the first solar rays reach its chargers.

“I’m sure that now the ESA specialists are taking a number of measures to reactivate the Philae. However, now this largely depends on the comet flight trajectory. As soon as it moves out of the shadow and the first solar rays reach the research probe’s chargers, Philae will start to work again and will possibly continue its research on the comet’s surface,” the scientist said. “Now it’s hard to say when this might happen,” he added.

According to the scientist, due to the fact that the Philae lander is not firmly attached to the comet that has low gravity, the probe may fly off into space again. “This may happen if a smaller space object hits the surface of the Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet. However, this is unlikely, this threat is rather a theory,” Zakharov said.

It took the Rosetta spacecraft more than 10 years of flight to approach the researched object. Over this period the space probe has covered more than 6.4 billion kilometres. Rosetta’s prime objective is to help understand the origin and evolution of the Solar System. The comet’s composition reflects the composition of the pre-solar nebula out of which the Sun and the planets of the Solar System formed, more than 4.6 billion years ago. Therefore, an in-depth analysis of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko by Rosetta and its lander will provide essential information to understand how the Solar System formed.

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