Rosetta cuts all ties with Philae, though they may meet one last time

27 Jul 2016

Graphic of the Philae lander on Comet 67P. Image: ESA

Rosetta has severed all communication ties with Philae, the lander it sent to the surface of Comet 67P, ahead of one final, destructive meeting.

In an end befitting one of the closing scenes of a space-travelling remake of Romeo and Juliet, Rosetta has turned off its electronic communications with Philae.

Over one year since Philae’s last successful communication with its mothership, the decision comes just a few weeks before Rosetta ploughs down into Comet 67P in scenes reminiscent of the European Space Agency’s greatest every moment.

Future Human

Philae Rosetta Comet 67P

Goodbye, friend

In the winter of 2014, Philae descended from Rosetta and crash-landed on the comet, with its short-lived science experiments yielding extraordinary finds from the alien body of rock.

Among Philae’s numerous discoveries, water ice was found on the surface of Comet 67P, and the building blocks for life were confirmed on what will soon be the burial site of two of modern space travel’s most famous crafts.

Now, ahead of the September destruction of Rosetta – which will see the spacecraft provide a final deluge of scientific readings – Philae has been officially cut adrift.

Fascinating mission

“Today, communication with Philae was stopped,” Andreas Schuetz of German space agency DLR said. “This is the end of a… fascinating and successful mission for the public and for science.”

Philae was originally sent into space way back in 2014, spending a little over a decade – and travelling some 6.5bn km – chasing down Comet 67P.

After enjoying the comet’s orbit for a few months, Philae was dispatched, but its landing wasn’t smooth and it ended up in a shaded area yielding little solar energy to boot up its machinery.

Now confirmed as in a state of ‘eternal hibernation’, when Philae originally went quiet this wonderful video was produced, telling the ten-year story of the Rosetta mission in just a few adorable minutes.

Blaze of glory

Meanwhile, Rosetta’s end will be confirmed when “communications cease”, upon its impact with the comet.

“30 September will mark the end of spacecraft operations, but the beginning of the phase where the full focus of the teams will be on science,” said Matt Taylor, ESA Rosetta project scientist.

“That is what the Rosetta mission was launched for, and we have years of work ahead of us, thoroughly analysing its data.”

If you are wondering where Rosetta is right now, this incredible map reveals all.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic