BBC

London

The Philae lander is drilling into the surface of comet 67/P, amid fears that its battery may die in hours.

Researchers at ESA say the instrument is being deployed to its maximum extent despite the risk of toppling the lander.

Scientists hope they will also be able to capture some samples for analysis in the robot’s onboard laboratories.

Two other instruments were deployed overnight including a thermometer to take the comet’s temperature.

If the battery dies the results may not make it back to Earth.

Stephan Ulamec, Philae lander manager said: “The drill has been active today, whether it will sample and will succeed in bringing these samples to ovens we shall know this evening.

“This would be fantastic but it is not secured - maybe the battery will be empty before we get contact again.

The ESA team says that the solar panels on the lander are getting small amounts of sunlight, but not enough for power in the short term.

“We plan to rotate the lander a little bit so that at the position where we have now this one panel that gets sun, we’ll have a slightly larger panel and this would increase the chance that at a later stage the lander could wake up again and start talking to us again.” The team is still not sure where on the surface the probe came to rest after bouncing upon landing on Wednesday. Scientists have been examining radio transmissions between the orbiter and the lander to see if they can triangulate a position. This work has now produced a “circle of uncertainty” within which Philae almost certainly lies.

One solution that will be tried on Friday is to turn the main body of the robot to show the largest of its solar panels to the Sun.

The idea is that this could eke out some more life for the lander.

Launched in 2004, the European Space Agency (Esa) mission hopes to learn about the origins of our Solar System.

It has already sent back the first images ever taken from the crumbling, fractured terrain of a comet.

Philae got to the icy 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on the back of Esa’s Rosetta satellite after a 10-year, 6.4 billion-km (4bn-mile) journey, which reached its climax on Wednesday with a seven-hour drop to the surface.