November 11 – Philae Lands on Comet 67P/C-G

2015Four years years ago today ESA successfully landed (or bounced) their Philae lander on comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, having been launched from the Rosetta spacecraft some hours earlier.

The Philae Lander viewed from Rosetta, a few hours into the flight to Comet 67P. (Image credit: ESA)

Rosetta had been launched from French Guiana in 2004, and a soft landing on the target comet was going to be the highlight of the trip. One of Philae’s thrusters was known to be faulty before separation from Rosetta, but there wasn’t much that could be done about it so they went ahead anyway. Earlier I said that Philae “bounced” onto 67P, which I think needs a little more information. There isn’t much gravity on a comet; so if you bounce, you’ll bounce high. Philae bounced just over half a mile (1 km) before coming down again. It was a whisker away from not coming back down and carrying on into space.

Fortunately, despite landing at a jaunty angle and in an unfavourable location, Philae was able to deploy some of the experiments on board, and was capable of several periods of communication with ground controllers via Rosetta.

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