Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
NASA Space Science

NASA Developing Comet Harpoon For Sample Return 49

Posted by Soulskill
from the thar-she-blows dept.
An anonymous reader writes "NASA appears to have decided that the best way to grab a sample of a rotating comet that is racing through the inner solar system at up to 150,000 miles per hour while spewing chunks of ice, rock and dust may be to avoid the risky business of landing on it. Instead, researchers want to send a spacecraft to rendezvous with a comet, then fire a harpoon to rapidly acquire samples from specific locations with surgical precision while hovering above the target."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

NASA Developing Comet Harpoon For Sample Return

Comments Filter:
  • by pecosdave (536896) * on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @02:20AM (#38366970) Homepage Journal

    This isn't as dangerous as Jax-Ur's Nova Javelin is it?

  • As much as I like all these cool endeavours that Nasa goes on, they really need to hurry up and invent a faster than light drive. April 4th, 2063 is fast approaching.

  • by Robert Zenz (1680268) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @02:36AM (#38367040) Homepage
    ...we could drag it home!
  • by stms (1132653) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @02:37AM (#38367046)

    We're whalers on the moon we carry a harpoon but there ain't no whales so we tell tall tales and sing a whaling tune.

    • by kiehlster (844523)
      And that would also explain the premise of Star Trek IV. Harpoons being the only effective hunting weapon brought into space probably detracted from interest in more traditional hunting tools and the eventual extinction of whales. It might also explain why tractor beam technology is as effective as it is in the Star Trek saga.
      • by Smallpond (221300)

        Start Trek II seems more appropriate.

        from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee. Sink all coffins and all hearses to one common pool! And since neither can be mine, let me then tow to pieces, while still chasing thee, though tied to thee, thou damned whale! Thus, I give up the spear! -- from Moby Dick

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @02:48AM (#38367092)

    They're good at harpooning things for scientific research.

  • by Dripdry (1062282) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @02:52AM (#38367116) Journal
    Oh Melville, you'd be so proud!
  • by RPGillespie (2478442) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @03:00AM (#38367148)
    This could have a deep impact on our current understanding of ice.
  • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @03:22AM (#38367230)

    They will be out there in space in rubber boats, harassing NASA's comet hunting boat by throwing stinky paint at it, etc . . .

    Although Bob Barker's last anti-whaling boat did look kinda sorta like a spacecraft already . . .

    And NASA claims the comet hunting is for research purposes only. Ha! We all know better than that! The comet pieces will end up in the same place as all those "missing" moon rocks that Apollo brought back . . . in the free open rock market!

    It's high time that the international community join together to ban this blood sport on endangered celestial bodies. Comets are scare and harpooning them will lead to their extinction.

    When was the last time that you saw a comet in the wild?

    I thought so . . .

    • by Nikker (749551)
      Mod this shit up.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Bardwick (696376)
      I served on a aircraft carrier pulling into Italy when Greenpeace showed up. There is nothing, I mean nothing more gratifying than watching a Greenpeace guy in his little rubber raft, coming at your carrier with a spray paint can. watching the look on his face as the 2.5" hose actually lifts him out of the raft.. He went up before he went down into the water.. Man that was fun. I only got to watch though.. sigh.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        I served on a aircraft carrier pulling into Italy when Greenpeace showed up. There is nothing, I mean nothing more gratifying than watching a Greenpeace guy in his little rubber raft, coming at your carrier with a spray paint can. watching the look on his face as the 2.5" hose actually lifts him out of the raft.. He went up before he went down into the water.. Man that was fun. I only got to watch though.. sigh.

        So, I'm not sure what ``a 2.5" hose lifting somebody out of the water'' is representative of.. Do

        • by gottabeme (590848)

          Haha, are you the guy who was in the raft?

          A naval ship of a sovereign nation has the right to defend itself from defacement. They weren't bullying anyone at all. Their method was harmless and happened to be hilarious. It illustrates the absurdity and stupidity of the protester: regardless of the validity of his protest, his methodology was silly, and he should have seen it coming. And he's lucky lethal force wasn't used, because after previous attacks on naval ships by small boats with bombs, it wouldn'

  • by geekmux (1040042) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @03:41AM (#38367316)

    "...avoid the risky business of landing on it. Instead, researchers want to send a spacecraft to rendezvous with a comet, then fire a harpoon to rapidly acquire samples from specific locations with surgical precision while hovering above the target."

    Aw, hell, is that all they want to do?!? Sheesh, for a minute there, I thought this was gonna be hard or something. You're right, shooting harpoons while locking in the cruise control around 150,000MPH sounds much easier, especially when you add the surgical precision accuracy requirement. (And as any man who has had a successful vasectomy can attest, there is a significant difference between surgical accuracy and "close enough".)

    Aw, who am I kidding? This is NASA we're talking about. They've done amazing things, and will continue to do so. I just hope we can find a way to afford it.

  • by Trapezium Artist (919330) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @03:56AM (#38367366)

    While this is certainly interesting technology for future missions, it's worth remembering (as the original NASA article indeed does), that the European Space Agency's Rosetta mission was launched back in 2004 and is already en-route to its rendezvous with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in May 2014. It will "orbit" the comet and observe it as it returns to the inner solar system through 2014 and 2015.

    But it will also deploy a small lander called Philae which will use two harpoons and then drills to "dock" with the comet (you don't really land on something with such low surface gravity) and sample the surface material in situ. As the NASA article points out, Philae's harpoon doesn't collect samples itself and, of course, Philae can only land at one location, carefully chosen to be safe through prior close-up observations by the main Rosetta spacecraft. But still, this is actually going to be done real soon now ...

    Rosetta is currently in hibernation out several astronomical units from the Sun on a trajectory that'll have it meet up with the comet. There's insufficient sunlight out there to power the whole spacecraft, but enough for an alarm clock that should (!) go off in January 2014 when it's close enough to both Sun and comet to begin full operations.

    So, looking forward to an exciting ride in 2014-2015, ringside seat right alongside a comet as it heats up and sheds material ...

  • I wonder... (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anachragnome (1008495) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @04:05AM (#38367430)

    I wonder if anyone at NASA has heard the term "Nantucket Sleigh Ride"?

  • Reading this something came to mind. This satelite/probe/spacecraft would be the first spacecraft earth has build that would be equiped with a kinetic weapon...... Only one remark here: COOL!
  • by phrostie (121428) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @07:18AM (#38368408)

    ... to the last I grapple with thee; from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee.

  • by mbone (558574) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @08:28AM (#38368934)

    The problem is not landing on the comet, the problem is that the comet's gravity is so weak that conventional sampling techniques will tend to push the spacecraft away, and it is not clear that you will be able to anchor the spacecraft firmly enough to avoid this. Similar problems exist with tether based sample return (where a long tether is used to match velocities with a target, and there are only a few seconds available to collect a sample).

    There are various proposed solutions for this "touch and go" sampling problem. The recent Decadal Survey [usra.edu] provides an overview. Hayabusa tried to fire pellets [space.com] into Itokawa, to kick up some material for sampling. Other proposed solutions include cores and scoops [esa.int], "sticky pads [esa.int]," brush wheel samplers [nasa.gov]. A reasonable approach would probably be to try several attempts, if possible.

  • ... the Pequod.

One possible reason that things aren't going according to plan is that there never was a plan in the first place.

Working...