It was a momentous event and one of the biggest science stories in years. In autumn 2014, the Rosetta probe rendezvoused with Comet 67P/ Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Within days, its Philae lander touched down on the surface - 405 million kilometres from Earth.
This was the first time humans had ever achieved the feat – opening a new chapter in Solar System exploration after ten years of waiting. Much of the spacecraft was built and designed in the UK – with STFC teams responsible for some of the key mission instrumentation.
One of the instruments housed within Philae is Ptolemy, an award-winning evolved gas analyser instrument the size of a shoebox. Designed by teams from STFC RAL Space and the Open University, it was built to collect and analyse samples of any organic material on the surface, enabling researchers to investigate the relationship with similar materials from other Solar System bodies.
Despite the slightly off target landing, Ptolemy was able to collect samples and send data, before the instruments on the lander powered down. They are complex findings to analyse, but researchers have now starting drawing valuable insights. By June 2015, Ptolemy had clocked up 8 billion kilometres in space – and the Philae lander had repowered.
What do stomach ulcers, vaccinations and bed bugs have in common? They are all health issues now being tackled imaginatively thanks to the ESA Rosetta mission. Small UK enterprises have been taking advantage of the technology, based at the ESA Business Incubation Centre Harwell, which is managed by STFC.
There could be breakthrough in using a breath test for detecting stomach ulcers and a stomach infection linked to cancer. Rosetta insight is developing micro-needles for use in vaccinations, so that significantly less liquid is needed. It’s also bad news for bed bugs. Technology is being developed to detect and monitor bed bugs in hotel rooms, using many of the same philosophies and lessons learnt during the ESA Rosetta mission.