Expert Opinion: The Philae comet landing mission

Posted by ap507 at Nov 13, 2014 03:10 PM |
University space experts comment on the successful Philae comet landing mission and what it means for the future of space research
Expert Opinion: The Philae comet landing mission

© Wikipedia; Illustration of Philae approaching the comet

Martin Barstow, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Head of the College of Science & Engineering, Professor of Astrophysics & Space Science and President, Royal Astronomical Society said:

“The Rosetta mission has been a tremendous adventure for the European Space Agency and the scientists involved. It has already proved to be a scientific success and promises to deliver much more over the next months and years.

“The riskiest part, landing the Philae spacecraft on the surface of the comet, has never been done before and I would like to send my congratulations for this amazing achievement. We look forward eagerly to the images and scientific results from the lander.”


Professor Ken Pounds, Emeritus Professor of Space Science and CEO of PPARC from 1994-98, said:

“Rosetta is already a remarkable demonstration of how European capabilities in space science have grown over the 50 years since the formation of the European Space Research Organisation (ESRO) in 1964 – with the UK as primary funder. The UK was also a key player in the foundation of ESA 11 years later (particularly through Michael Heseltine’s role), although – importantly - for a further decade space science continued to be dominated by NASA.

“The current position, in which Europe is a world leader in many areas of space science, has its origins in the decision taken in 1984 (advocated by the UK and Germany) for ESA to set down its long-term science priorities. Under the leadership of Roger Bonnet, the resulting ‘Horizon 2000’ programme transformed Europe from a bit player to a world leader in many areas, including solar physics, cosmology and X-ray Astronomy.

“Rosetta was one of the new missions in the H2000 programme. Against substantial competition, the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council was sufficiently inspired by the technical and scientific challenge of this ‘comet chasing mission’ to approve UK participation in 1996.

“Seeing a comet up-close as it approaches – and then recedes from – the Sun over the next 18 months will be exciting enough. A successful touch down of Philae will be a bonus few would have bet on all those years ago.”


Dr John Bridges, Reader in Planetary Science, said:

“The dramatic images that have started returning of the comet’s surface have begun to show what a remarkable comet we have landed on with a long and complicated history. We know from analysing grains at the Space Research Centre returned from Comet 81P/Wild2 by the Stardust mission that comets are surprisingly varied – they are revealing an unexpected history of the earliest Solar System – not just the inert dusty snowballs we used to think of them as being. 

"The analyses of water and CO2 we have been hearing about from Rosetta , with more data about the composition of the solid samples to come, will fill in many of the gaps of our knowledge.”


Dr Paul Abel, Mathematics Teaching Fellow, said:

"At the time of writing it is not certain just how much of its program the Philae lander can now accomplish, what is certain however is that this mission is already a stunning success. Getting Rosetta out into orbit around comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko (also known as 67P) in order to study it up close was the main aim, and the Philae lander was really just the icing on the cake.

"All of scientists and engineers who made this seemingly impossible task a certainty can be enormously proud. It is a great achievement for science, and a splendid achievement for the human race."