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Take a closer look at Stephenson’s Rocket in 3D

a detail of a 3D reconstruction of Stephenson's Rocket showing the Rocket nameplate

Image taken from the 3D scan of Stephenson’s Rocket © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

There’s no need to pull on your boiler suit to take a closer look at Stephenson’s Rocket as the venerable loco gets the Sketchfab 3D treatment to mark its display in Manchester

To mark the unveiling of George Stephenson’s Rocket at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, the Science Museum Group is inviting armchair rail and engineering enthusiasts across the globe to examine the iconic locomotive in unprecedented detail for the very first time.

A high-resolution 3D model of Stephenson’s Rocket can now be examined from every angle, and even flipped over on its back at the click of a mouse, on the 3D modelling platform Sketchfab, on the Science Museum Group Collection website, and, thanks to a Creative Commons license, on compatible websites like Museum Crush (see below).

George Stephenson’s Rocket is one of the most instantly recognisable steam engines in the world, and is currently on display in Manchester in a gallery occupying the Liverpool Road station it served almost two centuries ago.

Rocket famously secured its place in history after winning the 1829 Rainhill trials, reaching a top speed of 30mph. The locomotive was the only one of the five competing engines to complete the trial along a mile of track at Rainhill in Lancashire. It was manufactured earlier that year by Robert Stephenson and Company in Newcastle and brought together several efficiency and performance innovations – highlighted on the 3D model.

Its ground-breaking design became the basis for subsequent steam locomotives and landed Stephenson the lucrative contract to supply locomotives for the epoch defining Liverpool and Manchester Railway, which opened in September 1830 as the first fully steam driven railway in the world.

Stephenson’s Rocket
by Science Museum Group
on Sketchfab

two views of the Rocket steam engine

© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

a 3D photo still of a 3D picture of a steam engine in a museum

© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

a still from a 3D photo of a steam engine

© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

Measuring over four meters in length and weighing in at three tonnes, Rocket is to date, the most complex and largest item from the Science Museum Group Collection ever to be 3D scanned.

Audiences can move the three-tonne locomotive around with ease on screen, peer underneath and explore the innovations which made Rocket the fastest locomotive of its time.

Working with Science Museum Group colleagues, a team from ScanLAB spent 11 hours recording every angle of Rocket to create the 3D model using over 200kg of camera, lighting and scanning equipment. Scanning and photography was particularly challenging due to Rocket’s colour, glossy texture and complex shape.

After six weeks of processing all the data and 220 gigabytes of photography, a further two weeks of processing was needed to produce several 3D models of Rocket, one of which – featuring 84,000 vertices – has now been published. Work is ongoing to explore additional uses for the data and 3D scans, including through augmented reality.

The model can be embedded using Sketchfab and downloaded under a CC Attribution-NonCommercial licence, enabling users to 3D print their own Rocket model.

a detailed 3D photo of a steam engine footplate

© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

a side view image of Stephenson's Rocket

© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

Further information about Rocket and its significance to the railways is available at railwaymuseum.org.uk/objects-and-stories/rocket-rainhill-and-rise-locomotive.

Stephenson’s Rocket can be seen at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester now, entry to the museum and the exhibition is free.


Science and Industry Museum

Manchester, Greater Manchester

Uncover Manchester's industrial past and learn about the fascinating stories of the people who contributed to the history and science of a city that helped shape the modern world. Located on the site of the world's oldest surviving passenger railway station and only minutes from Manchester's City Centre, the Museum's…

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