The European Space Agency (ESA) has officially closed contact with the Philae lander that resides on the surface of comet 67P in our Solar System on July 27th, 2016. The lander touched down on the comet’s surface in 2014 and was supposed to grab samples of the comet’s surface and report its finding back to its mother ship.
Orbiting the same comet is a spacecraft known as Rosetta, and that spacecraft, which was Philae’s mother ship, is getting closer to the end of its life.
As the European Space Agency has continued to go without hearing back from Philae all while the comet continues to move away from the Sun where the Sun’s rays can’t power the lander, it seemed like saving power onboard Rosetta was the best thing to do.
As a result, the ESA has officially turned off the Electrical Support System Processor Unit (ESS) on the Rosetta spacecraft, which means that Rosetta is now on its own and will no longer be able to talk to Philae (not that it was able to anyways).
Philae hasn’t been heard from for an entire year, and holding off until now has been hard enough of a decision to make since it had seemed like the lander would never wake up again.
The ESA says that near the end of July, Rosetta will be so far away from the Sun that it will just continue to lose up to 4W of power each day.
Turning off the ESS and other unnecessary components is a way for the spacecraft to save its power up so scientific observations can continue for at least a couple more months following the change.
Rosetta has captured some pretty amazing photographs of the comet over its lifetime. Among those are photos of 67P’s odd dual-lobed shape, and even close-ups of 67P’s sinkholes. It's unknown what else the ESA plans to study over the course of the next two months.
Soon, it'll all be over, and the ESA can focus their energy on new places to explore.
Source: European Space Agency, Twitter