European scientists are confident they'll soon be able to start experiments on the surface of a speeding comet after a spacecraft lost for months on its surface suddenly "woke up" this week.
Barbara Cozzoni, lander control center engineer for the German Eerospace Center, told reporters at the International Paris Air Show that information gleaned from the Philae lander's brief transmissions on June 13 and 14 had begun to be deciphered.
After a decade-long mission launched March 2, 2004, the Rosetta spacecraft carrying the lander caught up to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in August of last year. On Nov. 12, the Philae lander was released toward the comet's craggy surface, becoming the first spacecraft to land on and study a comet. But the lander took a bad bounce and eventually came to rest in the shadow of rocky cliffs. It sent back data and pictures, but, its solar panels shielded from the sun, the machine's batteries quickly drained and communications went dark.
Scientists hoped that at some point the lander would receive enough sunlight to power back up. And it finally did.
Philae sent a cheerful message back to Earth over Twitter on June 14, exactly seven months after its previous tweet, which ended with "I'll tell you more about my new home, comet #67P soon... zzzzz."
Cozzoni said Wednesday that scientists got "only good things" from the lander's surprise pings over the weekend, adding that all four of Philae's solar panels are collecting energy and the spacecraft's internal temperature was in the correct range.
Mark McCaughrean, a senior ESA adviser, said scientists need a stable communications link with the spacecraft to begin experiments not just about the comet but about the origins of life on Earth.