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DAY 33

DAY 33

JOIN US ON A SIX BILLION KILOMETRE JOURNEY

The Rosetta probe and lander Philae explore a comet far, far away

12 November 2014, the moment when the Philae lander touched down on 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko – the world’s first soft landing of a spacecraft on a comet.

After a six billion kilometre journey aboard the Rosetta probe, developed and built by Airbus Defence and Space for the European Space Agency (ESA), the world’s attention turned to the icy surface of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

At 17:03 CET on 12 November 2014, the ESA satellite control centre in Darmstadt, Germany reported the news that people had been so eagerly awaiting: “Philae has landed!”

Since being launched from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana on 2 March 2004, the Rosetta probe carrying Philae had flown three times past the Earth and once past Mars, in order to gain the momentum needed to catch the comet travelling at 135,000 km per hour.

It was a meticulously planned and skilfully executed journey, which you can explore below:


“This is a world first – landing on a comet travelling at 135,000 km per hour after a 10 year journey through our solar system: it is a truly amazing achievement.”

François Auque, former Head of Space Systems, Airbus Defence and Space.

Airbus 50 Day 33 Asset Infographic
2 March 2004
5 September 2008
10 July 2010
8 June 2011
20 January 2014
6 August 2014
12 November 2014
30 September 2016

Unfortunately, Philae’s success was short-lived. It had landed awkwardly, with the solar panels on board not able to generate enough power to sustain it, and after just 60 hours the lander lost contact with earth.

However, despite its short life, the Rosetta mission brought important lessons for planetary researchers.

The data Philae was able to relay from its 10 different scientific instruments, “completely changed our picture of comets,” according to Eberhard Grün, an interdisciplinary scientist working on the Rosetta mission at the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg, Germany.

Unlike planets, whose rocks have been subjected to constant erosion and tectonics, the material inside a comet is the same as when it came into existence. Knowing what is inside a comet is akin to journeying back to the origins of the solar system.

Among the data Philae collected on the comet’s surface was the detection of carbon and nitrogen-rich compounds, suggesting that complex processes and the building blocks for life were present 4.6 billion years ago – a fascinating discovery for scientists globally and one that is still reshaping the way we think about our early solar system.

As François Auque, Head of Space Systems, Airbus Defence and Space at the time, expressed it, “We are extremely proud to have contributed to the Rosetta success story with our innovative concepts and designs, robust and reliable systems, and the dedicated work of employees both at Airbus Defence and Space and at all the other partners in the industrial consortium and ESA.” 

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