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ESA: ‘With Time Running Out, We’re Taking Risks’ With Comet Lander

Giuseppe Macri Tech Editor

With time running out on historic comet lander Philae’s batteries, ESA mission controllers on Friday said it’s time to take risks with the probe before its energy is expected to run out by Saturday.

After Philae’s bumpy landing pushed the probe past its targeted landing zone and into the shadow of a cliff, ESA’s comet landing team had to decide whether to deploy the lander’s harpoons or control surfaces in an attempt to bounce the comet to a new location, with accessibility to more hours of sun for its solar panels (Philae’s currently only getting 1.5 hours for every 12-hour comet rotation). (RELATED: First Comet Landing Probe Might Be In Trouble)

Moving the lander would also have given the team a chance to secure all three of Philae’s legs to the ground and drill in, after its bumpy landing left one leg hovering, preventing the others from drilling into the surface. (RELATED: Spacecraft Lands On A Comet For The First Time In History)

“We’re coming to the end so we’re taking more risks,” Paolo Ferri — head of mission operations at the European Space Agency — said in a Friday BBC report. “But we’re super happy with what we’ve done up until now. I can’t tell you exactly how much this lander has achieved but it is close to 100 percent.” (RELATED: Watch The First-Ever Landing Of A Space Probe On A Comet Live)

“What’s missing is the drilling. But with time running out, we’re taking risks.”

ESA reported on Twitter Friday that the team decided to forego trying to move the lander, citing safety concerns. Philae is now drilling into the surface to sample the comet’s makeup — one of its core mission objectives, and one that carries a risk of its own without the comet’s legs secured to the surface.

The torque and rotation of the drill could damage or further dislodge Philae.

Philae’s team may try turning the body of the lander to face its largest solar panels to the sun in an effort to eek out a little more energy before the probe is expected to go quiet sometime between Friday night and Saturday.

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