ESA Awakens Rosetta’s Comet Lander

Little Philae is awake! ESA sent a wake-up call to the 100-kg (220-lb) lander riding aboard the Rosetta spacecraft this morning at 06:00 GMT, bringing it out of its nearly 33-month-long slumber and beginning its preparation for its upcoming (and historic) landing on the surface of a comet in November.

Unlike Rosetta, which awoke in January via a pre-programmed signal, Philae received a “personal wake-up call” from Earth, 655 million kilometers away.

Hello, world! ESA's Rosetta and Philae comet explorers are now both awake and well!
Hello, world! ESA’s Rosetta and Philae comet explorers are now both awake and well!

A confirmation signal from the lander was received by ESA five and a half hours later at 11:35 GMT.

After over a decade of traveling across the inner Solar System, Rosetta and Philae are now in the home stretch of their ultimate mission: to orbit and achieve a soft landing on the inbound comet 67/P Churyumov-Gerasimenko. It will be the first time either feat has ever been attempted — and hopefully achieved — by a spacecraft.

Read more: Rosetta Spacecraft Spies Its Comet As It Prepares For An August Encounter

After Rosetta maneuvers to meet up with the comet in May and actually enters orbit around it in August, it will search its surface for a good place for Philae to make its landing in November.

With a robotic investigator both on and around it, 67/P CG will reveal to us in intimate detail what a comet is made of and really happens to it as it makes its close approach to the Sun.

“Landing on the surface is the cherry on the icing on the cake for the Rosetta mission on top of all the great science that will be done by the orbiter in 2014 and 2015. A good chunk of this year will be spent identifying where we will land, but also taking vital measurements of the comet before it becomes highly active. No one has ever attempted this before and we are very excited about the challenge!”
– Matt Taylor, Rosetta project scientist

Meanwhile, today’s successful wake-up call let the Rosetta team know Philae is doing well. Further systems checks are planned for the lander throughout April.

Watch an animation of the deployment and landing of Philae on comet 67/P CG below:

Source: ESA’s Rosetta blog

Want to welcome Rosetta and Philae back on your computer? Download a series of ESA’s “Hello, World” desktop screens here.

NASA’s Mighty Eagle Takes Flight; Finds Its Target

No, it’s not a UFO — it’s NASA’s “Mighty Eagle”, a robotic prototype lander that successfully and autonomously found its target during a 32-second free flight test at Marshall Space Flight Center yesterday, August 16.

You have to admit though, Mighty Eagle does bear a resemblance to classic B-movie sci-fi spacecraft (if, at only 4 feet tall, markedly less threatening to the general populace.)

Fueled by 90% pure hydrogen peroxide, Mighty Eagle is a low-cost “green” spacecraft designed to operate autonomously during future space exploration missions. It uses its onboard camera and computer to determine the safest route to a pre-determined landing spot.

During the August 16 test flight, Mighty Eagle ascended to 30 feet, identified a target painted on the ground 21 feet away, flew to that position and landed safely — all without being controlled directly.

“This is huge. We met our primary objective of this test series — getting the vehicle to seek and find its target autonomously with high precision,” said Mike Hannan, controls engineer at Marshall Space Flight Center. “We’re not directing the vehicle from the control room. Our software is driving the vehicle to think for itself now. From here, we’ll test the robustness of the software to fly higher and descend faster, expecting the lander to continue to seek and find the target.”

In the wake of a dramatically unsuccessful free flight test of the Morpheus craft on August 9, another green lander designed by Johnson Space Center, the recent achievements by the Mighty Eagle team are encouraging.

Here’s a video from a previous test flight on August 8:

Future tests planned through September will have the lander ascend up to 100 feet before landing. Read more here.

The Mighty Eagle prototype lander was developed by the Marshall Center and Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., for NASA’s Planetary Sciences Division, Headquarters Science Mission Directorate Image/video: NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center