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ROSETTA – Europe’s comet chaser

Credit: ESA


Launched on 2 March 2004, ESA's Rosetta satellite flew through space in hibernation until it was awakened in January 2014. It is now set for a rendezvous with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko where it will study the nucleus of the comet and its environment for nearly two years, and land a probe on its surface. The lander Philae is expected to land on 12 November. The satellite will study the nucleus of the comet and its environment for nearly two years.


Rosetta is the first mission designed to orbit and land on a comet. It consists of an orbiter, carrying 11 science experiments, and the Philae lander carrying 10 additional instruments including that of RAL Space, for the most detailed study of a comet ever attempted.

For the first time a satellite is undertaking a lengthy exploration of a comet at close quarters to watch how it is transformed by the warmth of the Sun along its elliptical orbit. Its lander is the first probe being on a comet’s nucleus for in-situ analysis.

Its analysis will reveal biomarkers that may help us understand how life started on Earth.


Rosetta’s industrial team involves more than 50 contractors from 14 European countries and the United States. The prime spacecraft contractor is Airbus Germany. Major subcontractors are Airbus UK (spacecraft platform), Airbus France (spacecraft avionics) and Thales Alenia Spazio (assembly, integration and verification). 

RAL SPACE: On board the European Space Agency’s Rosetta orbiter is a lander named Philae, which houses a suite of instruments including Ptolemy, an award-winning evolved gas analyser instrument the size of a shoebox and weighing 4.5 kg.

Designed by teams from STFC RAL Space and the Open University, Ptolemy will collect data to analyse the relationship between water ice on comets and the Earth’s oceans. It will also study the nature of organic material on the comet and use this to investigate the relationship with similar materials from other Solar System bodies.

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