Behind the scenes with Rosetta and Philae

It’s a mammoth post, but I thought it would be good to share some photos of the spacecraft that you would not usually see. Click the photos to see a full size version.

First is a manufacturing photo of Rosetta with Philae mounted on the front. The plates with red handles are protecting Philae’s solar panels and will be removed before flight.

You can see one of Philae’s landing legs folded up on the front, with its two domed footpads, as well as the panels that make up Rosetta’s structure.

build 1

Next, is another similar shot, but with the spacecraft more complete. It has the black thermal blanket attached and the protective panels removed. You get a really good look at Philae here.


The following photo shows one of the solar arrays being attached. You get a good idea of the sheer size of the panels. There are two on Rosetta, one on each side, like wings. During manufacture the panels are supported on wires. They cannot support their own weight on earth because they are made to only work in space, and be as light as possible. They are folded up against the spacecraft for launch.


The next interesting photo shows Rosetta and Philae being worked on inside a space simulator vacuum chamber.

The spacecraft is subjected to the same temperature extremes and vacuum that it will experience in space. The technician is using a harness to manouver around the spacecraft.


The following photo shows a test of Rosetta’s high gain antenna. This is the antenna that points towards Earth, sending its own data back as well as relaying telemetry and data from Philae whilst it’s on the surface. This link is only around 20Kb/s.

A 1Gig broadband connection is 1000Kb/s, so Rosetta and Philae’s link it is relatively small. And remember, the radio signal takes just over 28 minutes to travel from the spacecraft to earth. Any commands from the control centre take the same time to get back to Rosetta and Philae.

You can also see the solar array folded up on the side nearest the technician.

deployment test of high gain antenna

So, the spacecraft is built and tested, and has been shipped to the launch site in Kourou in French Guiana. Now it needs some fuel.

The technicians are wearing special protective suits because the fuel is extremely toxic.


Nearly ready for launch. The Ariane 5 that will launch Rosetta and Philae has been prepared. Next the two vehicles are mated. Rosetta and Philae sit on top of the cone-shaped carrier. Everything below the technician’s waist is Ariane 5 rocket.

You can just see the cone of a solid booster sloping off to the right below the gantry.

When this is complete a two-part aerodynamic fairing (nose cone) is placed over Rosetta and secured to the launcher.


Rosetta and Philae were launched on 2nd March 2004, on Arianespace flight 158.

As I write this Philae is on the surface of the comet, and I have got my fingers crossed that its batteries last the night!


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