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'Goodbye' to comet lander Philae, says space agency

Scientists have given up hope of restoring contact with the space probe, after its solar batteries were shaded from the sun. The comet landing, in November 2014, was hailed as a remarkable feat of precision space travel.

"Unfortunately, the probability of Philea re-establishing contact with our team...is almost zero," Stephan Ulamec, Philea Project Manager from the German Aerospace Center (DLR) said on Friday.

Ulamec said his team would no longer attempt to send commands to the washing machine-sized lander, adding that "it would be very surprising if we received a signal now."

Dusty, icy terrain

DLR scientists suspect the Philea is covered in grime and too cold to operate after losing power because its solar-driven batteries failed.

The probe made history in November 2014 when it became the first man-made device to make a controlled landing on a comet.

Due to a faulty thruster, the lander did not land in its originally intended location on the "67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko" comet, which would have provided more sunlight to charge its secondary batteries.

Nevertheless, scientists said the probe still managed to collect data on comet compounds and surface properties, adding that the failed project will help them with future landings.

False hope

Philea woke up last June as the comet approached the sun, giving scientists hope that the lander could complete some experiments that it had not done before its solar-powered batteries ran out.

The comet

The comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

But the lander has not made contact with its mother craft, the Rosetta orbiter, since July 9, and a last-ditch attempt to re-establish contact with the robotic lab has failed.

The DLR team said they would be surprised if they received a signal from Philea now.

Too cold to function

The 4-kilometer-wide (2 1/2 mile) "67P" comet is currently some 222 million kilometers (138 million miles) from Earth - between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter - and is now arcing away from the sun.

Night-time temperatures can fall below 180 degrees Celsius below zero (-292°F), which is much colder than Philae was designed to withstand, scientists said.

Rosetta, which is a mission of the European Space Agency, will continue to study the comet until September before making its own landing on "67P," the ESA said.

mm/rc (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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