German spacecraft controllers have today woken up the Philae lander carried by the European comet-chaser Rosetta to start preparations for the attempted first of its kind landing on a comet in November.
The operation conducted from the control room of the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) in Cologne saw the controllers beaming up new software to Rosetta, hurtling through the space more than 650 million km away from the Earth.
Rosetta’s on-board computers then used the software to wake up the Philae lander and forward its eagerly awaited response to the Earth.
First telemetric data was successfully received at about 2:45pm GMT. Though the temperature of the lander was said to be colder than expected, the engineers said the vehicle was in good shape.
"We will analyse this data thoroughly, so we can find out whether Philae has survived the long flight and hibernation intact," said Stephan Ulamec, DLR’s project manager for the Rosetta mission.
The engineers will now start checking the ten instruments aboard the lander before Rosetta approaches its final destination - the Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in May this year. At this moment, the satellite still has about four million kilometres to travel.
Once in the comet’s orbit, Rosetta will first scan the comet’s surface to create a map that would enable the researchers to identify the most suitable locations for the ground-breaking landing attempt.
So far, the most detailed information astronomers have about comets came from brief fly-bys. Both – having a spacecraft orbiting a comet and landing a probe on its surface - are not yet accomplished achievements.
Scientists hope the Rosetta mission will enable them to gain unprecedented insight into the history of the Solar System as conserved inside the comet. Researchers believe these extremely cold bodies, lacking geological processes and traveling far away from the Sun have managed to preserve the primordial material from which the Solar System was created.
The Rosetta spacecraft was woken up after two and half years in deep space hibernation in January this year, commencing the sequence preparing it for its big moments.
The Philae lander is designed to drill into the comet’s surface, analysing samples of soil and collecting data that could be send back to the teams on Earth.