The Philae lander may be in trouble after scientists revealed that the probe was bounced hundreds of metres away from its designated landing site and is currently on its side at the foot of a cliff.
The spacecraft is in perfect operational order but engineers from the European Space Agency (ESA) have confirmed that it is “almost vertical” with “one foot in the open air”.
“This has an impact on our energy budget,” said one scientist. “The lander is relying on solar energy [and] we’re getting one and half hours of sunlight when we expected six or seven.”
Philae has enough power in its batteries to last for around sixty hours of operation, but scientists are hoping they might be able to move the craft to a more favourable position using the landing gear.
However, there's a danger than any movements will only dislodge the lander from the surface or even tip it onto its back.
"You can imagine the gentle manuevre that we must do now to maintain the location of the lander," said lead lander scientist Jean-Pierre Bibring. "We will do that in the next hours and possibly days.
The problems started when Philae’s harpoons failed to secure it to the comet's surface after touching down, and the craft bounced – scientists think as high one kilometre – floating for an hour and fifty minutes before landing, with a second bounce lasting for a further six minutes.
In pictures: European Space Agency's Rosetta mission
In pictures: European Space Agency's Rosetta mission
1/22 European Space Agency's Rosetta mission
Image of Comet 67P/CG taken by the Philae lander from a distance of approximately 3km from the surface
2/22 European Space Agency's Rosetta mission
Rosetta's lander Philae took this parting shot of its mothership shortly after separation
3/22 European Space Agency's Rosetta mission
Parting shot of the Philae lander after separation, captured by one of Rosetta's cameras
4/22 European Space Agency's Rosetta mission
A technician celebrates after the successful landing of the Philae lander, in the control room at the ESA headquarters in Darmstadt
5/22 European Space Agency's Rosetta mission
Scientists celebrate at a mission observation centre in Toulouse, southern France as they receive information that Philae has landed on the Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet
6/22 European Space Agency's Rosetta mission
Astronomer Klim Ivanovych Churyumov, who discovered the comet 67P/ Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 1969, reacts after the successful landing of the Philae lander on the comet
7/22 European Space Agency's Rosetta mission
A model demonstrates how the landing device Philae, of the space probe Rosetta, stands on the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko at the press center of the satellite control center of the European Space Agency in Darmstadt, Germany
8/22 European Space Agency's Rosetta mission
An artist impression of Rosetta's lander Philae on the surface of comet
9/22 European Space Agency's Rosetta mission
Picture taken on October 28 by the navigation camera on Rosetta shows the boulder-strewn neck region of comet 67/P Churyumov-Gerasimenko. It was captured from a distance of 9.7 km from the center of the comet
10/22 European Space Agency's Rosetta mission
Picture taken on October 24 shows a raised plateau on the larger lobe of the comet
11/22 European Space Agency's Rosetta mission
The probe is supposed to fly to a comet and put down a small laboratory on the top of it
12/22 European Space Agency's Rosetta mission
A scientist from the European Space Agency with an airworthy copy of space probe 'Rosetta' in the control center in Darmstadt, Germany
13/22 European Space Agency's Rosetta mission
Maneuvers designed for the actual space probe are simulated with the replica. 'Rosetta' will be woken up from an energy saving hibernation after 957 days
14/22 European Space Agency's Rosetta mission
A European Space Agency employee sits in the control room for the Rosetta mission in Darmstadt, Germany
15/22 European Space Agency's Rosetta mission
Scientists at the European Space Agency are expecting their comet-chasing probe Rosetta to wake from almost three years of hibernation
16/22 European Space Agency's Rosetta mission
Europe's Rosetta probe on a NASA mission
17/22 European Space Agency's Rosetta mission
NASA is participating in the European Space Agency's Rosetta mission, whose goal is to observe one such space-bound icy dirt ball from up close for months on end
18/22 European Space Agency's Rosetta mission
An impression of the Philae lander
19/22 European Space Agency's Rosetta mission
ESA probe Rosetta with Mars in the background. The three-tonne probe blasted off aboard an an Ariane V rocket from Kourou, French Guiana in 2004
20/22 European Space Agency's Rosetta mission
Rosetta orbiter deploying the Philae lander to comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, the spacecraft measures 32 m across including the solar arrays, while the comet nucleus is thought to be about 4 km wide
21/22 European Space Agency's Rosetta mission
The spacecraft, festooned with 25 instruments between its lander and orbiter (including three from NASA), is programmed to 'wake up' from hibernation
22/22 European Space Agency's Rosetta mission
An Ariane V carrying the three-tonne probe Rosetta blasting off from Kourou, beginning a decade-long quest to hunt a comet in the depths of the Solar System and shadow it around the Sun in a bid to tease out secrets of how life began on Earth
Bibring added that he was surpised that the ground was more like a "trampoline" than a rock due its dusty, powdery covering.
However, the scientist aren't sure of the craft’s exact location. "We haven’t entirely located it," said project manager Stefan Ulamech. "It’s not very close to the landing site we wanted but it's not very far away."
The image below (taken by Rosetta back in September) shows where Philae first landed in the cross-hairs, and the rough area where scientists think the craft is now.
The ESA team added that even though the landing had not gone exactly to plan, the presence of Philae on the comet is still meaningful, both as an incredible achievement for humanity and in a more practical sense; even if the lander runs out of battery it could still come back to life as the comet moves around the Sun and shifts the shade.
“Tomorrow is another day for Philae. 2015 is another year for Rosetta,” said Ulamec.