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First in history: Scientists land robot on a comet, with a hitch or two

European scientists were hoping for a stream of data today (Nov 13) - after a robot lab made the first-ever landing on a comet.

It's a key step in a marathon mission to probe the mysteries of space.

Operation chiefs in Darmstadt, Germany said yesterday that the lander Philae failed to anchor to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on landing, but still managed to send back scientific information.

A Twitter account in Philae's name announced both the landing and the robot's inability to anchor itself properly.

 

 

 

 

 

The 100kg explorer may have plopped down on a soft, sand-like material or may be lightly touching the surface, they speculated.

More will be known later in the day, when Philae makes scheduled contact with its mothership, Rosetta, landing manager Stephan Ulamec said.

“Hopefully, we are sitting there on the surface at a position different to the original landing and can continue our science,” Ulamec said. The agency was to brief the press at 1300 GMT.

The European Space Agency (ESA) is ecstatic at the operation and NASA – the world’s most successful space agency and an expert at difficult landings – itself heaped praise on the exploit.

 

 

Equipped with 10 instruments, Philae was designed to carry out the first-ever scientific experiments on a comet.

It is the jewel in a crown of a massively-complicated project that spanned more than two decades.

Getting from Earth to a comet that is travelling towards the Sun at 18 kilometres per second was a landmark in space engineering and celestial mathematics.

The 1.3 billion-euro (S$2.1 billion) Rosetta mission was approved in 1993.

Rosetta, carrying Philae, was hoisted into space in 2004. It took more than a decade to reach its target in August this year, having used the gravitational pull of Earth and Mars as slingshots to build up speed.

The pair covered 6.5 billion km together before Wednesday’s separation prior to landing.

Philae was designed to come into land at a gentle 3.5 km per hour, then fire two harpoons into a surface that engineers hoped would provide sufficient grip while the robot conducts experiments with 11 scientific instruments.

However, there were indications that these landing harpoons had failed to deploy, ground control said.

Envisaged tests include drilling through the comet surface and analysing the samples for chemical signatures.

Sources: AFP, Twitter

 

Comet