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NASA Space Science

NASA Developing Comet Harpoon For Sample Return 49

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."
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NASA Developing Comet Harpoon For Sample Return

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  • by mbone ( 558574 ) on Wednesday December 14, 2011 @09:28AM (#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.

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