After receiving brief transmissions from Philae, Rosetta has not heard more. It is possible—likely—that the lander is not well positioned, so that the orbiter is just at the edge of effective receiving.
For that reason, the Rosetta team has decided to maneuver into a lower orbit in line with the best signal received from Philae. These burns took place this week,and seem to have worked.
We’ll see what data can be retrieved, and whether ESA can upload instructions to improve the performance and restart some science operations on the surface.
I’m sure this was a tough decision, because the changes in the orbit will forgo some planned science observations. This must have been balanced against the desire to find out what has happened to Philae, and get whatever data can be obtained from the surface.
It’s a trade off, and a risk, because we may never hear from Philae, or we may never get anything useful.
Fingers crossed, all will go well and will be worth the cost.
(By the way, the near comical description of the Saturday awakening on Earth is worth a look.)
Not to forget Ceres:
The Dawn spacecraft is hard at work doing it’s second complete survey of Ceres. NASA has released the closest images yet of the mysterious “bright spots”, which are still not identified (but they are definitely really there!) Given the increasing evidence that water is everywhere in the solar system, I’m betting on “ice”.
The brightest spots on dwarf planet Ceres are seen in this image taken by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft on June 6, 2015. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA
Out at Pluto, the New Horizons probe is about one month from its screaming flyby. The team has been doing a second “hazard search”. The spacecraft is going to fly inside the orbits of known moons—tearing right past, really close up—so it could run into something. No hazards have been identified, though given the chaotic mess of the neighborhood, who knows if they can really identify and avoid much. Just honk the horn and cross your fingers! We’re coming through!