Scientists from the European Space Agency (ESA) hope that they can begin experiments on the surface of the comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko soon, after the lander Philae woke up suddenly this week.
To that end, scientists plan to bring the Rosetta spacecraft closer to the comet so that it can communicate with Philae on the surface. Rosetta must be in an orbit at distance of about 180 km from the comet in order to receive data. Its current orbit is between 220 and 240 km.
Since the comet is approaching the sun, dust coming from the surface may disrupt the Rosetta’s orienting equipment while spacecraft is maneuvering. The comet will be at its closest point to sun on August 13.
“The comet is a very, very active object at the moment, it's a bit as if you were to imagine taking your car through a snowstorm," Elsa Montagnon, Rosetta deputy flight director said at the Paris air show on Wednesday.
On November 12, 2014, the Philae lander detached from Rosetta and landed on the comet approximately 7 hours later. But bouncing twice due to unfired harpoons, the lander came to rest in a shadowy position where its solar panels didn’t receive enough sunlight.
“Thanks to the shadow, we have the capability now to wake up and have a very long-term activity. Now we are in a position not only to wake up but to resume science to an extent that might go beyond our expectations,” Pierre Bibring, Philae’s lead scientist said.
Had it landed in its chosen spot Philae would have been taken out of action by now as the temperature of its surroundings would be too high, Bibring added.
Philae has been in hibernation or safe mode state since its batteries ran down on November 15, 2014. On June 13, 2015 Philae awoke and began communicating with Rosetta.
Scientists hope that experiments on the surface of the comet reveal information about the Earth’s evolution and life, since the rock and ice that make up the comet constitute a time capsule of ancient molecules.