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ESA confident about comet probe's mission despite technical glitch

Thursday, November 13, 2014 - 01:11

The European Space Agency says harpoons designed to anchor its probe to a comet ''were not fired,'' but that the vehicle appears stable and ready to begin experiments. Rough Cut (no reporter narration).

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ROUGH CUT (No reporter narration) The European Space Agency says harpoons designed to anchor the Philae probe failed to deploy during its landing on the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on Wednesday (November 12), but that the lander appears stable on the surface. At a news conference on Thursday, Stefan Ulamec, Philae lander manager at the DLR German Aerospace Center, told reporters that his team was still investigating the cause. The 100-kg (220-pound) lander - virtually weightless on the comet's surface - touched down on schedule at about 11 a.m. ET after a seven-hour descent from its orbiting mothership Rosetta, now located a half-billion kilometers (300 million miles) from Earth. Despite the technical problem, pictures beamed half a billion kilometres (300 million miles) back to Earth showed the probe sitting on the surface of the comet. Ulamec said the fact that the landing worked, despite the anchoring problems, shows "the high redundancy we put into the design." With a smile, he added it "is something I will also implement in the next comet lander." Earlier the ESA said data showed the lander had twice bounced back into space after touching down on Wednesday, but then come to rest at around 1730 GMT. Scientists hope that samples drilled out from the comet by Philae will unlock details about how the planets - and possibly even life - evolved, as the rock and ice that make up comets preserve ancient organic molecules like a time capsule. Comets date back to the formation of the solar system some 4.6 billion years ago. Scientists suspect impacting comets delivered water to early Earth.

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ESA confident about comet probe's mission despite technical glitch

Thursday, November 13, 2014 - 01:11