Scientists with the European Space Agency (ESA) have initiated a last-chance effort to contact the Philae lander that dropped more than a year ago onto the surface of a comet hurtling through our solar system.
Philae made history by landing on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in November 2014, and it collected data used to analyze the surface of a comet for the first time.
July 9th of 215 was the last time a signal was detected from Philae and time is running out to get it back in working order.
“The last clear sign of life was received from Philae on July 9, 2015,” the German Space Agency said in a statement. “Since then it has remained silent.”
Scientists sent a command to Philae to spin up its flywheel. If they manage to command the wheel they will be able to shift Philae, shaking dust from its solar panels and align the craft so it collects more sunlight.
“It’s an admittedly desperate move,” Philippe Gaudon of the French National Space Agency told AFP. “It is very unlikely the robot will become functional again.”
Scientists will continue to make an effort to reach Philae, but hope is fading that they will ever contact the lander again, with one official even calling the move “desperate” according to reports. More than likely, its two radio transmitters have failed.
If no contact has been made by the end of January, hope will be entirely lost.
Still, it was an incredibly successful mission and helped scientists learn a lot about the building blocks of our solar system.
Comets are pristine leftovers from the Solar System’s formation some 4.6 billion years ago. Philae has found several organic molecules, including four never before detected on a comet.
Meanwhile, the Rosetta mothership, which has been orbiting the comet since August 2014, is expected to remain operational until September 2016.