back to article Sun's out, guns out: Plucky Philae probot WAKES UP ... hits 'snooze'

The Philae lander has woken from hibernation for the first time since its 60-hour, energy-draining mission on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko last November, scientists at the European Space Agency confirmed today. Signals from the probe reached the ESA at its ops HQ in Darmstadt late last night. Philae, whose contact went …

  1. John H Woods Silver badge

    Best breaking news on a Sunday ...

    ... since I can't remember when

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Best breaking news on a Sunday ...

      Agreed. Feel good story of the weekend....

      1. Little Mouse

        Re: Best breaking news on a Sunday ...

        That's "Philae-good", Shirley?

        1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

          Re: Best breaking news on a Sunday ...

          The Philae when!

  2. Tromos
    Thumb Up

    Excellent work!

    Full credit to the designers and builders. Mistreated, bounced a kilometre, frozen and subjected to all sorts of indignities and yet - it LIVES!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Excellent work!

      Always assuming it was impossible to design a lander that would work properly from the start, rather than be sent millions of kilometers to shut down.

      1. Lee D Silver badge

        Re: Excellent work!

        Whenever I see space stories, I can't help but think that - so long as there's nothing else in the area - a big box filled with the cheapest set of wheeled-toy cameras all on slightly different frequencies with experiments bolted onto them en-masse would probably get more back than these multi-billion dollar missions with one thing.

        I mean, just blanket-drop a ton of toy cars with cameras, drills, etc. over where the Mars Rovers were and let them loose. Let schoolkids control them (four-minute or whatever delay pending).

        But then, I just *know* that what would break would be the thing that was supposed to drop them and never did, or the one box that can talk to them or whatever.

        We need a mission that sods the accuracy and fancy calculations and just salvo-fires a ton of cheap experiment en-masse in the hope that just one works.

        And if the Mars Rovers had been closer? Maybe one could have helped repair the other.

        1. imanidiot Silver badge

          Re: Excellent work!

          The biggest cost in these missions is not the hardware. It's in the launch (lots and lots of expensive hardware with tight tolerances that is likely to go BOOM if shortcuts are taken) and the support (lots of expensive data links, radio dishes, personnel, etc.).

          1. David Webb

            Re: Excellent work!

            Yeah, cost is a huge issue, it costs a (scientifically speaking) metric shitload of money to put stuff in space, having a load of cheap stuff going up means weight, and weight means cost, so having one more expensive bit of kit which will most likely work (as long as you use metric and just metric, not metric and imperial) means you're not wasting a lot of cash getting stuff up.

            Just getting an object into low earth orbit costs between $5-10k per kilo, according to the ESA, total mass of Rosetta was 3,000kg, at todays prices (lil bit more expensive 10 years ago) that works out at $30,000,000.

            Of course, if you could invent a propulsion system that doesn't require burning off fuel in space, you could reduce that cost by over 1/2 (fuel for Rosetta was 1,670kg) and THEN you can send up a bunch of cheap shit which probably will refuse to even bother starting at -34C, let alone sit in space at temps that are a bit colder than "ahh bit chilly out there", knowing, in the back of your mind, it cost you $10k per kg of useless crap out sent up into space.

          2. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: Excellent work!

            "The biggest cost in these missions is not the hardware. It's in the launch "

            Not even remotely close. Launch costs are a small percentage of mission costs.

            As are the _actual_ hardware costs (ie: the marginal cost of making the final production item which flies, plus its spare, which is normally used as a ground-based simulation rig once the launch goes off ok)

            Most of the money goes in labour costs for designing and prototyping dozens-to-hundreds of test models which will never be flown and in most cases never even exposed to a vacuum chamber or vibration test rig.

            These are necessary to make sure that the item which goes up, stays working, and doesn't fail in unexpected ways (but of course they still do for one-off missions as they're necessarily going to encounter unexpected conditions, such as ice so hard it broke the drill and it's hard to simulate what 3 years of power-off, deep-space cold-soak temperatures do to a thruster without investing billions into enough vaccuum chambers and chilling kit to keep the test items that cold for that long.)

            Making a dozen flight articles would add a few percent onto the mission cost as the R&D cost is already sunk. Making and flying a dozen Beagles would have cost roughly double what 1 did. (The percentage hit on other missions is less, because Beagle was done extremely cheaply - so cheaply that it reused test components and that was probably what killed it (the most likely scenario is iced up airbags which didn't inflate properly or which split. They were watersoaked, patched and overweight when packed for flight)

            The problem is that space missions are seriously strapped for cash. Space isn't sexy except for Geeks. At its peak spending, expenditure on NASA was less than the US public spent on outboard motors in any given year or pizza delivery charges. These days NASA's entire budget is less than Google spends lobbying the US congress (and Google is one of the smaller lobbyists) or what the US military spends operating airconditioned tents in the Middle East.

            If there was more money available, organisations could afford to be less cautious. Getting things wrong in spaceflight results in budgets being cut, not boosted to make up the difference as funding is fixed and mostly based on "national prestige" or PR value.

            As it is, 80-90% of proposed space missions deemed scientifically worthwhile never get past the funding proposal stage (which in turn leads to a lot of people scatter-gunning badly thought-out proposals in the blind hope of catching a crumb or two). Those that do get funded tend to pick up lots of "hitchhikers" en-route between mission core and launchpad as it's easier to propose add-ons than separate flights and some lose funding before launch for myriad reasons. There are plenty of completed spacecraft sitting around NASA/ESA/Russian warehouses which have been waiting 20+ years for a ride which will never come.

        2. Matthew 17

          Re: Excellent work!

          When you're in direct sun the temperature can be well over 100 degrees, as soon as you walk into the shade then it's almost absolute zero. Throw in the cosmic radiation on top and your cordless Black & Decker drill is going to have a hard time surviving.

          There's a reason probes and satellites cost a few quid, they generally work in these extremes, and when they don't they usually enough redundancy and workarounds to enable them to carry on.

          If you're going to go to the expense of building and fuelling a rocket to get your probe into space then you want to be reasonably sure that when it gets there it's going to work.

        3. Afernie

          Re: Excellent work!

          "We need a mission that sods the accuracy and fancy calculations and just salvo-fires a ton of cheap experiment en-masse in the hope that just one works."

          A) Litter bug.

          "And if the Mars Rovers had been closer? Maybe one could have helped repair the other."

          B) So at the start of your comment you're advocating throwing primitive disposa-probes at Mars in the vague hope that something might stick, and by the end you were proposing that Mars Rovers be qualified mechanics for each other? Probably best leaving the science to the scientists; unlike you they landed Philae on a Comet with a margin of error less than a degree beyond the main asteroid belt.

        4. Matt Langley

          Re: Excellent work!

          That's pretty much what they did with Spirit and Opportunity.

          Cheaper, faster, better. Two for the price of one, and boy, did they out perform expectations. a 90 day mission, and one of them is still going 11 years later! (The other managed 5 years of joy riding after completing it's mission, and another year as a stationary probe after that.)

          There is a limit to how cheap you can go though. The toy cars you allude to would have been shaken to pieces during launch, electronics fried during transit, lacked the power to communicate with Earth (even if they still worked), stranded in the first rut they fell into, broken down by the UV radiation and scattered to the winds, and oxidised. By now, the most resilient parts would be just rusty stains on rusty rocks, if they were lucky enough to have been scattered onto the surface in the first place, and of course that would still have required a launch and landing system every bit as sophisticated and expensive as for the rovers.

          Ofcourse, landing on a comet is a whole other magnitude of problem, if only because of the unimaginable distances involved. And to be fair, with Philae, they did manage this, and completed 90% of their plans in the first 2 days, including all of the highest priority stuff. Riding a boiling comet around the sun, live streaming (well, photo streaming, anyway), if possible, will be a mind boggling bonus. Let's hope they can establish regular comms' and get that data off, before it get's blown into orbit, devoured by a sink hole, or entombed in a super frozen snow drift.

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Excellent work!

        It did work properly from the start.

        The solar panels were a "It'll be nice if it works" afterthought.

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
      Terminator

      Re: Excellent work!

      Full credit to the designers and builders. Mistreated, bounced a kilometre, frozen and subjected to all sorts of indignities and yet - it LIVES!

      And now it's heading back to Earth bent on revenge!!!

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Great news, get dressed up for it !

    Sexy shirts on !

    http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/support-and-honour-for-the-accomplishments-of-matt

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Great news, get dressed up for it !

      Good call! Every time anyone mentions Philae, I think of that scientist and hope the useless media POS PC crowd haven't ruined his career.

    2. John H Woods Silver badge

      Re: Great news, get dressed up for it !

      My brother did his research and bought me a copy of that shirt. I shall wear it tomorrow. Hopefully no-one will be offended!

  4. Zebo-the-Fat

    It's alive!

    Can't keep a good lander down!

    It's a good thing it's a long way from earth, a thing as indestructible as that could cause havoc if it got back to Earth!

    1. Stoneshop Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: It's alive!

      Can't keep a good lander down!

      Well, the anchors didn't work as planned, and there's very little gravity, but still ...

  5. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      An online newspaper report elsewhere said it was still only getting about 90 minutes of sunshine a day.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

  6. Six_Degrees

    Just what we need - zombie robots!

  7. iLuddite
    Thumb Up

    the real 'rise of the machines'

    The best twitter accounts seem to be owned by the space probes.

  8. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge
    Boffin

    It's a...

    ... great weekend for space boffinery.

  9. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Pint

    I'll drink to that!

    Delighted to see this.

    Well done the ultra-boffins :)

  10. werdsmith Silver badge

    Love it!

    And one up the arse for the negative brigade that were so down on this piece of brilliance when it first landed.

    Made my day!

  11. willi0000000

    wonderful Sunday morning news!

    [ i'm just mad that i lost the restart pool . . . i had six days ago ]

  12. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    Its exact landing spot has remained a mystery

    Pinging Philae - do us all a favour and blink your nav lights, if you'd be so kind?

  13. Grikath Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    is all :)

  14. Old Handle

    This is beside the point, but I'm having a really hard time parsing this:

    We have also received historical data – so far, however, the lander had not been able to contact us earlier.

    The way I'm reading it, it almost gives the impression he expects it may be able to have contacted us earlier in the future... which surely can't be right. Best I can come up with is "According to the historical data we received so far, this was its first chance to contact us." Or something like that. Would that make any sense?

    1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

      No. The lander was in fact awake before this, and it did some science. Unfortunately, Rosetta wasn't in place to receive it's data (and/or the comet's rotation means that Philae couldn't relay to Earth directly) so the data sat in the buffer, waiting to transmit.

      This time around, the lander came online long enough to negotiate communications, but did not have time to empty it's buffer. We are hoping that future communications windows will occur, and will allow the lander to transmit it's data. After that, if there is power to spare, it will be assigned to do more science, again, in the hopes that we will have future communications windows for the data to be transmitted.

      1. KA1AXY

        How awesome is this? Rendezvous with, orbit around, then land on (not once, but 3 times) a comet, then lose and regain contact?

        "Well done" does not even begin to say it. Best wishes for continued success.

      2. This post has been deleted by its author

      3. Old Handle
        Gimp

        Alright. That does make more sense. Although I still don't understand why it was punctuated like that.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Unintended consequences.

    One interesting observation was that if it had landed where intended it would be burned out by now. The shady location is keeping it intact, So it can now sample what material is being boiled off the comet at a very interesting part of the journey past the sun.

    1. Kharkov
      Thumb Up

      Re: Unintended consequences.

      Some might say 'Unintended Consequences' but others will say, 'Science at its best.'

      As the late, great Issac Asimov put it, 'The best moments in science aren't when someone shouts 'Eureka!', it's when someone frowns and says, 'That's funny...''

      Call me optimistic, but I have a feeling that having a (mostly) charged up probot (I like that term!) on the surface of the comet when it swings by the sun, blasting out a tail, will end up giving us far more data than we'd have had if it had landed perfectly, gathered data from a mostly inert comet and burned out as planned.

      Fingers crossed, everybody...

  16. Winkypop Silver badge
    Coat

    I was less than confident

    But now I'm Philae Philae happy!

    Boffins rock!

    (puns intended)

  17. Hubert Thrunge Jr.
    Happy

    Ahem

    number 5 is alive!

  18. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
    Pint

    Great work

    I raised a glass or two of the distilled version of the drink shown in the icon (Ardbeg Uigeadail) to celebrate

    1. Paul Woodhouse

      Re: Great work

      very good choice there sir... may I recommend getting a Loch Gorm in to sip ready for the next bit of news :D...

  19. David Glasgow

    How big...

    Is a packet? ( in this instance?)

    1. Professor Clifton Shallot

      Re: How big...

      Put it this way, it's had no complaints.

      (Although as Nick Doody would have it, surely people would be more impressed if you said "I've had *complaints*!" But I digress.)

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "more than 8,000 data packets in its mass memory"

    Well that's a really useful piece of information. Given that a "data packet" is completely unquantified, what's the point of saying how many of them are in the queue?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "more than 8,000 data packets in its mass memory"

      "[...] what's the point of saying how many of them are in the queue?"

      A "data packet" could mean a complete observation sample of some sort. Therefore the individual size is irrelevant for the purpose of knowing they have a spread of samples over some time.

      How long that data will take to transmit back to base is a different measurement question.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "more than 8,000 data packets in its mass memory"

        It will probably be quicker to send now twitter has dropped the 140 character limit.

        and don't you guy go saying it isn't the lander actually tweeting, I get enough of that round here.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "more than 8,000 data packets in its mass memory"

        "Data packet" could mean one ethernet packet, or one megabyte, or one scan row, or one image, or collected observations for a period of one millisecond, or one minute.

        In this case there's little point saying there are "over 8,000 data packets"; you may as well just say "some data packets". The number could be 5 million or it could be 2, without affecting the meaning.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "more than 8,000 data packets in its mass memory"

          Answer at http://m.theregister.co.uk/2015/06/17/philae_warms_up_nicely_and_sends_home_second_burst_of_data/

          300 packets = 663 kilobits

          => 1 packet = 276 bytes

          => 8,000 packets = just over 2MB of data

  21. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Boffin

    I suppose that in that low gravity environment the lander would bounce around a little.

    I'd imagine that uneven cometary offgassing or impacts with small bodies might shake Philae loose from it's various resting places and have it bouncing around the comet a little.

    Well, its good to hear from the little guy!

  22. JimmyPage Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Cost of launch

    Is anyone seriously looking at Arthur C. Clarkes space elevator ?

    Total respect to all involved, by the way. It's why I did a BSc.

    1. John H Woods Silver badge

      Re: Cost of launch

      "Is anyone seriously looking at Arthur C. Clarkes space elevator ?" -- JimmyPage

      Short answer: yes

      It's not entirely Clake's idea, and actually dates in some form from late 19th Century. Kevlar, IS2R would be strong enough to build one on the moon, but not on earth -- but carbon nanotubes may eventually make it feasible.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Cost of launch

        "Short answer: yes"

        Longer answer: We don't have the tech (yet) and even if we do, we don't have big enough launchers(*) yet to get the initial ball of string into orbit.

        (*) Chemical launchers are unlikely to ever be large enough. An Orion nuclear launcher would work and a single successful launch could put all the necessary material in place to build the first one.

  23. Kubla Cant Silver badge
    WTF?

    DLR

    DLR project manager Dr Stephen Ulamec explained the probe's current status

    I think it's fantastic that in this day and age we have a commuter railway that can convey a probot to a comet millions of miles away in space. Did Dr Ulamec also offer an explanation for the delays at Canary Wharf? Perhaps you should have got an explanation from somebody at Network Rail as well.

    (It's the only reference to DLR in the article, and a Google search for those initials returns a page of results about the Docklands Light Railway.)

    1. wdmot

      Re: DLR

      Probably Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (http://www.dlr.de/dlr).

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