Skip main navigation

New offer! Get 30% off your first 2 months of Unlimited Monthly. Start your subscription for just £35.99 £24.99. New subscribers only T&Cs apply

Find out more

The Rosetta Mission

Find out all about the Rosetta Mission.
The Rosetta Mission. For centuries, humans have gazed at comets blazing in the sky, from ancient civilizations to early astronomers, right up to the current generation of space scientists and engineers who created a daring mission to explore a comet up close. The mission is called Rosetta. The team behind it, the European Space Agency. The Rosetta team have overcome many challenges. Its first launch was aborted, missing the chance to visit Comet 46p. But they had a backup, 67p, Churyomov-Gerasimenko. After 10 years of travelling through space to play catch up with a comet, Rosetta launched a small probe called Philae to land on 67p in November 2014.
However, the harpoons and the rocket designed to lock the probe onto the surface, failed to fire. Little Philae, weighing as much as AAA battery on earth, bounced up, then landed down, only to bounce again. The instruments on board were unharmed. But Philae landed in a crevice too dark for solar power. The race was on as the mission control team tried to download the data before Philae’s battery was depleted. They managed to gather over 80% of the data they set out to capture from Philae before it went into hibernation. Then in June 2015, they were overjoyed to hear Philae transmit again. A 67p approach to sun, the energy striking the comet increased enough to bring Philae back to life.
Using the data collected by both Rosetta and Philae suite of high tech instruments, scientists have been learning about the comet’s chemical makeup on the surface and in its atmosphere. They’ve discovered four different organic compounds never before seen on a comet. From Philae’s haphazard bouncy landing, they discovered that part of the surface are soft as snow, while others are as hard as volcanic rock. Future missions could visit more distant comets from beyond the orbit of planet Neptune in the Kuiper Belt, or even beyond that in the Oort cloud, the vast bubble of billions of ice chunks, home to the longest travelling comets.
By studying a variety of these icy time capsules, scientists hope to find out how life started on the young planet Earth billions of years ago.

The European Space Agency’s Rosetta Mission captured the interest and imagination of a generation all over the world!

Take a look at our video which explains what Rosetta (the orbiting spacecraft) and Philae (the lander) have achieved as well as the impact the mission has had on our knowledge of our very own solar system.

The science goals of the mission were to:

  • Study Comet 67P/Churymov-Gerasimenko
  • Examine the change in the physical and chemical nature of the comet as it approached the Sun
  • Analyse the composition of the comet via the Philae lander
  • Explain the origin of the comet and the evolution of the Solar System
This article is from the free online

Our Solar System and Beyond: Teaching Primary Science

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now