Rosetta – Philae : First ever Landing on Comet

Rosetta is a robotic space probe built and launched by the European Space Agency (ESA) which is performing a detailed study of comet 67P. Rosetta was launched on 2 March 2004 on an Ariane 5 rocket and reached the comet on 6 August 2014, becoming the first spacecraft to orbit a comet. On 12 November 2014, Rosetta mission soft-landed its Philae probe on the camet. It is part of the ESA Horizon 2000 cornerstone missions.


The spacecraft consists of two main elements: the Rosetta space probe orbiter and the Philae robotic lander. The Rosetta mission will orbit 67P for 17 months and is designed to complete the most detailed study of a comet ever attempted. The mission is controlled from the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC), Germany.


The probe is named after the Rosetta Stone, a stele of Egyptian origin featuring a decree in three scripts. The lander is named after the Philae obelisk bearing a bilingual Greek and Egyptian hieroglyphic inscription. A comparison of its hieroglyphs with those on the Rosetta Stone catalysed the deciphering of the Egyptian writing system. Similarly, it is hoped that these spacecraft will result in better understanding of comets and the early Solar System. In a more direct analogy to its namesake, the Rosetta spacecraft also carries a micro-etched nickel alloy Rosetta disc donated inscribed with 13,000 pages of text in 1200 languages.


On 12 November 2014, ESA’s Rosetta mission soft-landed its Philae probe on comet 67P, the first time in history that such an extraordinary feat has been achieved. During the next phase of the mission, Rosetta will accompany the comet through perihelion (August 2015) until the end of the mission. On its 10 year journey towards comet 67P, the spacecraft has passed by two asteroids: 2867 Steins (in 2008) and 21 Lutetia (in 2010).


Scientists confirmed that the European comet lander Philae had ‘sniffed’ organic molecules on 67P containing carbon elements by its Cometary Sampling and Composition (COSAC) gas analysing instrument. The lander also drilled into the comet’s surface in its hunt for organic molecules, although it is unclear as yet whether Philae managed to deliver a sample to COSAC for analysis.


The European Space Agency (ESA) provides Europe’s gateway to space. ESA is an intergovernmental organisation, created in 1975, with the mission to shape the development of Europe’s space capability and ensure that investment in space delivers benefits to the citizens of Europe and the world.

ESA develops the launchers, spacecraft and ground facilities needed to keep Europe at the forefront of global space activities. Today, it develops and launches satellites for Earth observation, navigation, telecommunications and astronomy, sends probes to the far reaches of the Solar System and cooperates in the human exploration of space.