Courtesy of ESA Farewell Philae

Courtesy of ESA Farewell Philae

By Cliff Boan, Copy Editor

The European Space Agency (ESA for short) has just confirmed touchdown of their Philae Lander after spending over €1 billion, traveling near 4 billion miles, and a long 10 years of chasing down Comet 67P.

 

This marks the first time any spacecraft has ever landed on a comet. The Philae Lander has been attached to the Rosetta, a spacecraft that carried the lander on its way to the comet, with no real precise human control after launch. According to the ESA, the lander itself weighs around 220-pounds and is the size of a washing machine. It used two harpoons to attach itself to the icy surface of the comet, as well as gas powered thrusters so it would not bounce off. However, troubles arose on Tuesday, after the ESA was receiving no response from the thrusters, so they would have to solely rely on the harpoons to latch onto the comet. “The cold gas thruster on top of the lander does not appear to be working so we will have to rely fully on the harpoons at touchdown,” says Stephan Ulamec, Philae Lander Manager at the DLR German Aerospace Center. The plan is to have the spacecraft test the icy surface of the comet with an eight-inch drill to place testing materials into the surface of the comet. The goal is to figure out what kind of effects the sun has when it drives dust and gas off of it. In addition to that, there will also be an abundance of pictures coming from the surface of the comet as it settles in, and more pictures will be added as the comet makes its way around the surface of the sun.

Courtesy of ESA

Courtesy of ESA

ESA project scientist Matt Taylor said: “The orbiter will remain alongside the comet for over a year, watching it grow in activity as it approaches the sun, getting to within 112 million miles in summer next year, when the comet will be expelling hundreds of kilograms of material every second.” “Today, I think we have written a little bit of history and space flight. Thank you,” says Thomas Reiter, head of Human Spaceflight and Operations at ESA as the mission press conference, and 23 hours of live coverage, as a stream on the ESA website, of the spacecrafts came to a close. The entire stream can be found here. UPDATE: The ESA reports that the harpoons did not fire and attach to the comet, as first thought.