Philae lander 'on its side and in the shade' - but scientists say the craft is perfectly operational

After a bouncy landing Philae has settled at the foot of a cliff; the first spacecraft ever to land on a comet and a monumental achievement for humanity

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The Independent Online

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.

Video courtesy of the Open University

"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.

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.

comet-philae-roset_3105472c.jpgREAD MORE: WHY DID PHILAE BOUNCE?
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