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NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts

Sample Return Systems for Extreme Environments

Completed Technology Project

Project Description

Project Image Sample Return Systems for Extreme Environments

Since the Apollo era, sample return missions have been primarily limited to asteroid sampling. More comprehensive sampling could yield critical information on the formation of the solar system and the potential of life beyond Earth. Hard landings at hypervelocity (1-2 km/s) would enable sampling to several feet below the surface penetration while minimizing the Delta V and mass requirements.

Combined with tether technology a host of potential targets becomes viable. The proposed work seeks to design, develop and test a hard impact penetrator/sampler that can withstand the hard impact and enable the sample to be returned to orbit. Tether technology for release of the penetrator and capture of the sample eliminate many of the restrictions that presently inhibit the development of sample return missions. The work builds upon in hypervelocity laboratory testing that use 1" Al projectiles that investigate crater formation and penetration through hard surfaces. The proposed work will enable realistic size (6" diameter) projectiles to be studied by taking advantage of the development of cheap high power commercial rocket motors that will enable impacts up to Mach 2 for Phase I. With this data, methodologies for studying higher velocity impacts can be developed along with mission scenarios to test the viability of mission return samples in the near future. Successful development of sample return capabilities will provide a major impetus for solar system exploration.

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