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3D scan reveals intricate detail of iconic locomotive

The Science Museum Group has today published a high-resolution 3D model of Stephenson’s Rocket, enabling audiences across the globe to examine this iconic locomotive in unprecedented detail for the very first time. Rocket measures over four meters in length and weighs three tonnes, making it the most complex and largest item from the Science Museum Group Collection ever to be 3D scanned.

The intricate model was published as Rocket went on public display at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester, returning to the Liverpool Road station it served almost two centuries ago. 

Stephenson's Rocket by Science Museum Group on Sketchfab

Rocket secured its place in history after winning the 1829 Rainhill trials, reaching a top speed of 30mph. Manufactured earlier that year by Robert Stephenson and Company in Newcastle, Rocket brought together several efficiency and performance innovations – highlighted on the 3D model – and its ground-breaking design became the basis for subsequent steam locomotives. 

Thanks to the 3D model, Rocket can now be studied in detail from anywhere in the world. Audiences can move this three-tonne locomotive around with ease on screen, peer underneath and explore the innovations which made Rocket the fastest locomotive of its time. Created using 22 high resolution LIDAR scans and over 2,500 detailed photographs, the 3D model has been published on the Science Museum Group Collection website and on Sketchfab, the world’s largest 3D content platform. 

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. 


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

After six weeks of processing the LIDAR data and 220 gigabytes of photography, a highly detailed point cloud was produced, containing spatial coordinates, colour and intensity values for a staggering 750 million points. A further two weeks of processing was needed to produce several 3D models of Rocket, one of which – featuring 84,000 vertices – has been published today. Work is ongoing to explore additional uses for the point cloud data and 3D scans, including through augmented reality. 

The 3D model of Rocket was created by the Science Museum Group Digital Lab supported by founding sponsor Samsung. 



For more information or images please contact Collection Communication Manager Will Stanley at or 020 7942 4429.

The 3D model of Rocket has been published on the Science Museum Group Collection website. The model can be embedded on some websites using Sketchfab.

The 3D model of Rocket can also be downloaded from Sketchfab (under a CC Attribution-NonCommercial licence), enabling users to 3D print their own model of Rocket.

Rocket is on public display at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester from 25 September 2018 until 28 April 2019. Find out more about Rocket and its significance to the railways.

The high resolution LIDAR scanning, detailed photography and data processing was completed for the Science Museum Group by ScanLAB, who previously 3D scanned the Science Museum’s former Shipping Galleries. Further information about how the 3D model was made is available on the Science Museum Group Digital Lab.   

About the Science Museum Group

The Science Museum Group is made up of five leading science museums, welcoming over five million visitors each year to its sites: the Science Museum in London; the National Railway Museum in York; the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester; the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford; and Locomotion in Shildon. 

We share the stories of innovations and people that shaped our world and are transforming the future, constantly reinterpreting our astonishingly diverse collection of 7.3 million items spanning science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine. Standout objects include the record-breaking locomotive Flying Scotsman, Richard Arkwright’s textile machinery, Alan Turing’s Pilot ACE computer and the earliest surviving recording of British television. 

Our mission is to inspire futures - igniting curiosity among people of all ages and backgrounds. Each year, our museums attract more than 600,000 visits by education groups, while our touring exhibition programme brings our creativity and scholarship to audiences across the globe. More information can be found at