Philae prepares to take its eternal rest

ESA plans on shutting down communication attempts with the ill-fated comet lander.
By | Published: July 26, 2016 | Last updated on May 18, 2023

Tomorrow at 5 a.m. ET, ESA will say a final goodbye to its ill-fated comet lander, Philae.

At that time, ESA will shut down the Electrical Support System Processor Unit — the only communication relay between Philae and the Rosetta orbiter, which then sends the message back to Earth. 

It’s been more than a year since ESA has heard from Philae. The probe missed its intentional landing spot in November 2014 and instead landed in a poorly lit area of the comet, dooming the solar powered probe to frequent moments of powerlessness. Now, with Rosetta itself winding down its mission and aiming for a controlled descent onto Comet 67P as the comet heads out past Jupiter, out of reach of the Sun.

The probe needs all the power it can get in the meantime — including that coming from the communications relay with the sleeping lander.

So tomorrow, barring a miraculous recovery, Philae will lose its last link with the world. In its short time, it still returned data on the surface composition of the comet, as well as the sort of “atmosphere” around it from the sublimation of ices on the surface. It also detected a series of organic compounds on the comet. Not bad for a comet that went dark not long after it landed and only intermittently came back to life afterward for a few days in July 2015.