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Rosetta’s Comet Touchdown

This is an educational pilot project is centred around the European Rosetta mission to a comet. It is aimed at students 15+ years.  The idea to use LEGO MINDSTORMS® came about in 2009 close collaboration with Detlef Koschny from ESA and Steven Cavin from LEGO Denmark. Detlef had been using simple LEGO models of the Rosetta spacecraft to help plan the spacecraft’s operation. I made a short video of him explaining how and why. I took the video on a visit to LEGO Denmark, where I met Steven Canvin who introduced me to LEGO MINDSTORMS® and the idea of an educational project began to grown. Steven kindly gave me a LEGO MINDSTORMS® box that I handed to Detlef, who then with his son build a draft Rosetta Philae lander!

We developed the idea and managed to get financial support from ESA, EuroPlaNet and the German Space Agency DLR, as well as 40,000 bricks from LEGO, to make a short educational film on the Rosetta Philae Lander. Planetary scientist Dan Andrews (Open University, UK) and Engineer Ulrike Ragnit (ESA), the “mother” of Philae, explain the science behind and working of Philae, using a LEGO-comet-landscape and a LEGO MINDSTORMS® version of the lander. The LEGO lander was built by Dutch LEGO enthusiasts Martijn Boogaarts, Gerrit Bronsveld and Eric Steenstra.

Apart from the educational film, I put together “Interdisciplinary Activity Sheets”, with suggestions of how to use the film, LEGO and other ideas in a class room setting to explore cometary science in an interdisciplinary way (including art, languages, culture, etc..). The pdf can be downloaded here.

After presenting the finalized kit in Rome in September 2010, where 12 students from aerospace engineering  and 3 students of design tested the kit for a few hours, I met a science high school teacher from Hungary. She was interested in testing the kit with her students. In early 2011 her class of 15-year old students from the Széchenyi István Gimnázium in Sopron, Hungary, worked with the kit, developing their own LEGO-comet-lander, a T-shirt, a computer animation model, investigated the history of comet-tales in Hungarian literature, and made a short film about it. See the amazing lander they produced by clicking going to the HungaroBots site!!

Hungarobots PhilaeThe next year, the group presented a poster presentation entitled “Touch the Comet” at the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC). See the abstract here.

A similar, but smaller scale, test was done at the Bocage High School in Setúbal, Portugal.



The kit and the films are all freely available at in the Video tab of this project! The last video in the Video tab is the german language subtitled version.

[Lightcurve Films for European Space Agency (ESA), German Aerospace Center (DLR), Europlanet Research Infrastructure, LEGO;  05:25, 06:48, 19:11, 14:35 min.; Sep. 2010]

Both schools wrote a report on their activities, also evaluating the kit. The overall evaluation was very positive. Here a few selected comments:


At this level (9th years, 14-15 years old) in Physics we teach Kepler-laws, centrifugal force, satellites and cosmic speeds – it means that the kit fits nicely into our science curriculum. The students also learn about the Solar System in Geography, but they didn’t hear a lot of about the comets. So the kit completes their knowledge;

What is great is that the proposed activities in the Interdisciplinary Activity Sheets cover three areas: sci- ence, art and building (engineering), so every student can find and work on a favourite theme. The Inter- disciplinary Activity Sheets are also very useful, because they provide with starting-points and ideas for the project-leader.


We think it was a positive experience, in fact one of the best activities we had in our school! We learned a lot about comets, it was amazing working on a project related to space it obviously estimulated our imagination and it gave us new capacities of projection and planning.


Some comments from kit’s launch in Rome, September 2010:

Monserrat Olympia Pineda Arqueros (student of aerospace engineering): “I liked it a lot to assembly everything, I thought is was real fun … I would recommend it to all students to do this assembly exercise with LEGO…”

Detlef Koschny (ESA):  “It was good to see that people immediately started doing something,  they were not waiting for clear instructions or anything.”

Paolo Racioppa (student of aerospace engineering): “It was very interesting and very funny to make something with aerospace engineering but playing with LEGO, and playing with LEGO after many years. I think it is very interesting for people to use this kind of kit, to learn something about how the things work in space”

Elena Plini (student at the European Institute of Design): “In the first year I learned how to paint real scenes from nature, how to mix colours, tonality, grading. With this experience I learned about the existence of this comet … We thought is was really interesting and fun work, in particular because
it is not normally what we do. And we tried to represent the comet the best we could.”

Prof. Luciano Iess (prof. of Aerospace Systems at the Engineering Faculty of the Univ. of Rome): “The educational potential of such a tool I think is remarkable indeed … also the professors have to play with LEGO again!”

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