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NASA Science

Crashing Rockets Could Lead To Novel Sample-Return Technology 18

vinces99 writes "During spring break the last five years, a University of Washington class has headed to the Nevada desert to launch rockets and learn more about the science and engineering involved. Sometimes, the launch would fail and a rocket smacked hard into the ground. This year, the session included launches from a balloon that were deliberately directed into a dry lakebed. Far from being failures, these were early tests of a concept that in the future could be used to collect and return samples from forbidding environments – an erupting volcano, a melting nuclear reactor or even an asteroid in space. 'We're trying to figure out what the maximum speed is that a rocket can survive a hard impact,' said Robert Winglee, a UW professor of Earth and space sciences, who heads that department and leads the annual trek to the desert. The idea for a project called 'Sample Return Systems for Extreme Environments' is that the rocket will hit the surface and, as it burrows in a short distance, ports on either side of the nose will collect a sample and funnel it to an interior capsule. That capsule will be attached by tether to a balloon or a spacecraft, which would immediately reel in the capsule to recover the sample. 'The novel thing about this is that it developed out of our student rocket class. It's been a successful class, but there were a significant number of rockets that went ballistically into the ground. We learned a lot of physics from those crashes,' Winglee said. The technology, which recently received $500,000 over two years from NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts, could have a number of applications. It would allow scientists a relatively safe way of recovering samples in areas of high contamination, such as Japan's Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant, or from an erupting volcano, or even from an asteroid in space, in advance of a possible mining project."
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Crashing Rockets Could Lead To Novel Sample-Return Technology

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  • "such as Japan's Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant" is it just me or does this not seem like a very good suggestion, radioactive waste rockets
    • "such as Japan's Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant" is it just me or does this not seem like a very good suggestion, radioactive waste rockets

      Hardly. It just seems like another bit of FUD from an anti-nuke. That said however, a contaminated environment is still a contaminated environment regardless of how it got that way.

    • It seems like academics grabbing at straws to make themselves seem relevant for their grant proposals. The parts of Fukushima that can be reached by a rocket impactor can still be accessed by a person in a suit in a much more controlled and safe manner.

  • "Houston, we have a problem; but that's a good thing this time."

  • Everyone who's played Kerbal Space Program knows how useful lithobraking is.
  • by Gravis Zero ( 934156 ) on Wednesday October 30, 2013 @03:42AM (#45277529)

    this brilliant idea has been brought to you by the Kerbal Space Program!

  • by DougF ( 1117261 ) on Wednesday October 30, 2013 @03:51AM (#45277567)
    The military have significant experience in porpoising munitions, usually by mistake. It's pretty common to see munitions where the ballute has failed and the bomb enters at too shallow an angle, goes underground for a few dozen feet and then erupts and lands on the surface, or depending on the angle, goes back into the ground/explodes (finally). Shouldn't be too much of a stretch to design a system to enter at a shallow angle, gather (something), exit, and then deploy a retrieval system.
  • by fph il quozientatore ( 971015 ) on Wednesday October 30, 2013 @07:26AM (#45278393)
    That's what happens when you let a particle physicist design the experiment. (relevant: [])
  • Don't give Allegiant Airlines* any ideas, dammit!

    * EU: Ryan Air.

"And remember: Evil will always prevail, because Good is dumb." -- Spaceballs