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Rosetta may be crashing, but can still save lives on Earth

The Rosetta Mission will end with a controlled descent to the surface of its comet on 30 September 2016, but its legacy will live on in applications, such as detecting cancer and in industry.

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta spacecraft arrived at Comet 67P on 6 August 2014, following a 10-year journey through our solar system after its launch on 2 March 2004. The Philae Lander was sent down to the surface of the comet on 12 November 2014, marking the first ever controlled landing on a comet.

The OU legacy from the Rosetta Mission is a mini research laboratory called Ptolemy. Designed by OU space scientists and Rutherford Appleton Laboratories to “sniff” and detect the isotopic make-up of the comet, expertise developed for Ptolemy is now being adapted for use in the health sector and industry.

“Missions like Rosetta really push the boundaries of science and engineering, and space technology is changing lives here on Earth,” said Dr Geraint Morgan, Researcher in the OU’s Space Science priority research area.

Dr Morgan and his colleagues in Space Science have used Ptolemy expertise to develop a procedure that mimics how dogs smell and is able to “sniff” cancer 24 hours a day. One of the applications being explored is faster, more accurate detection of prostate cancer, one of the most deadly types for men in the UK.

OU Ptolemy research has also been used to create an atmosphere analyser to measure the quality of the air inside British submarines and raise alerts if there is a build-up of dangerous gases, such as CO2.

Most recently, the Rosetta space expertise has been used to detect the quality of perfumes by perfumeries in Paris, and is now also being applied by hoteliers to “sniff” for bed bugs.

Watch the video to hear what Dr Morgan has to say about real world applications of Rosetta research.

The Rosetta Mission is just one example of how OU space scientists are involved in some of the most challenging and exciting space missions. The OU will launch a new MSc in Space Science and Technology in January 2017 to equip graduates with the skills to support the UK space industry on future missions.

Confirmation of the end of the Rosetta Mission is expected from ESA’s main control room at 11:20 GMT or 13:20 CEST +/- 20 minutes on 30 September 2016, with the spacecraft set on a collision course with the comet the evening before.

The real world applications of the Rosetta Mission is just one of the events being marked by OU Space Month.

Find out more about OU Space Science research.