After more than a decade traveling through space, a robotic lander built by the European Space Agency has made the first-ever soft landing of a spacecraft on a comet. Mission controllers at ESA's mission operations center in Germany received a signal confirming that the Philae lander had touched down on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on November 12.
The lander's planned mission ended after about 64 hours when its batteries ran out, but not before it delivered a full set of results being analyzed by scientists across Europe. Rosetta's own mission is far from over, and the spacecraft remains in excellent condition, with all of its systems and instruments performing as expected.
During the next phase of the mission, Rosetta will accompany the comet through perihelion (August 2015) until the nominal end of the mission. Rosetta will become the first spacecraft to witness at close quarters the development of a comet's coma and the subsequent tail streaming for millions of kilometers into space. Rosetta will then have to stay further from the comet to avoid the coma affecting its orbit.
In addition, as the comet nears the Sun, illumination on its surface is expected to increase. This may provide sufficient sunlight for Philae lander, now in hibernation, to reactivate, although this is far from certain. Early next year, Rosetta will be switched into a mode that allows it to listen periodically for beacon signals from the surface.