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NASA Developing Comet Harpoon For Sample Return

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the thar-she-blows dept.

NASA 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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49 comments

Comet Harpoon? (2)

pecosdave (536896) | more than 2 years ago | (#38366970)

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

Re:Comet Harpoon? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38367132)

you're a stupid-ass dumb fuckin' idiot

you like niggers too

As much as I like this cool stuff (1)

zcomuto (1700174) | more than 2 years ago | (#38366988)

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.

Re:As much as I like this cool stuff (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38367414)

April 4th, 2063 wasn't the day you invented FTL drive, it was the day we bestowed it upon you

greetings from
the collective

Re:As much as I like this cool stuff (2)

Laz10 (708792) | more than 2 years ago | (#38367484)

I am not a trekkie, but you must be referring to this:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Trek:_First_Contact [wikipedia.org]

The Enterprise arrives in the past, on April 4, 2063, the day before humanity's first encounter with alien life after Zefram Cochrane's historic warp drive flight.

So I assume that Zefram will invent it. I'll be sure to suggest that as a name candidate for my future grandchildren.

Re:As much as I like this cool stuff (2)

Rolgar (556636) | more than 2 years ago | (#38368788)

Cromwell (actor who played Zefram) was 56 when the movie premiered, probably 55 when taped. Given that you'd expect the character's age to be within 5 years of that, a real Zefram would have\will be born between 2003 and 2013. You've got a chance to give birth to him yet yourself.

Re:As much as I like this cool stuff (4, Funny)

Laz10 (708792) | more than 2 years ago | (#38369010)

You've got a chance to give birth to him yet yourself.

The chances of me giving birth to anyone are astronomical ;-)

Re:As much as I like this cool stuff (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 2 years ago | (#38379528)

You can't go on the actor's age. Actors play characters of different ages than themselves all the time. Just look at the movie "Proof" that I saw recently, starring Gwenyth Paltrow; in it, she plays a girl in her mid/late 20s, but Gwenyth is almost 40. I guess they couldn't find any younger actresses with enough acting talent to play a math genius.... very sad.

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Why stop there... (2)

Robert Zenz (1680268) | more than 2 years ago | (#38367040)

...we could drag it home!

Re:Why stop there... (3, Informative)

riverat1 (1048260) | more than 2 years ago | (#38367108)

That would take a lot of reaction mass. More likely the comet takes the probe on a Nantucket sleighride.

What could possibly go wrong? (2)

captainpanic (1173915) | more than 2 years ago | (#38367570)

Drag a huge comet towards the earth... what could possibly go wrong?

So that's why they had harpoons (3, Funny)

stms (1132653) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:So that's why they had harpoons (2)

kiehlster (844523) | more than 2 years ago | (#38368834)

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.

Re:So that's why they had harpoons (2)

Smallpond (221300) | more than 2 years ago | (#38370520)

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

Get the Japanese to do it. (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38367092)

They're good at harpooning things for scientific research.

Re:Get the Japanese to do it. (1)

ThatsNotPudding (1045640) | more than 2 years ago | (#38368668)

Or Moon Whalers

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But what about... (1)

RPGillespie (2478442) | more than 2 years ago | (#38367102)

All this tractor beam talk I've been hearing about? Seems as though trapping comet particles with lasers isn't going to cut it for NASA...

The Great White Comet? (3, Funny)

Dripdry (1062282) | more than 2 years ago | (#38367116)

Oh Melville, you'd be so proud!

space harpoon mining from the future (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38367142)

To build off of what stms posted.

" Wow! Mining a comet! That sounds fun."

"Yes, there's no safer occupation than mining. Especially when you're perched on a snowball whipping through space at a million miles an hour."

If they succeed (4, Funny)

RPGillespie (2478442) | more than 2 years ago | (#38367148)

This could have a deep impact on our current understanding of ice.

bangtoysmall (-1)

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The usual suspects. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38367216)

"Don't you worry none, Sheriff. The safety's on Old Betsy." *PIiiioiioioioing* :D

Greenpeace will foil this plan . . . (4, Funny)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 2 years ago | (#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 . . .

Re:Greenpeace will foil this plan . . . (1)

Nikker (749551) | more than 2 years ago | (#38367252)

Mod this shit up.

Re:Greenpeace will foil this plan . . . (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38367482)

You're an idiot.

Re:Greenpeace will foil this plan . . . (1, Funny)

Bardwick (696376) | more than 2 years ago | (#38370252)

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.

Re:Greenpeace will foil this plan . . . (2)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38370964)

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 you mean to say that a "guy on a rubber raft" known to be armed with a spray can and having non-violent motives was attacked from an aircraft carrier with a water cannon? I can see why, as one of the studly men standing by on that aircraft carrier, you would feel invigorated beyond belief at your manliness.

Also, did you ever make any attempt to understand what the guy was protesting about? You might want to consider that a lot of the world views the US less than favourably, and that bully boy behaviour like this does not really help your case. More to the point, it does help theirs..

Re:Greenpeace will foil this plan . . . (1)

gottabeme (590848) | more than 2 years ago | (#38377376)

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't be necessarily unjustified.

I don't think showing how stupid the protester was helps the protester's case.

And they say... (0)

Threni (635302) | more than 2 years ago | (#38367240)

.... That NASA needs more tax payer's cash! Sounds like they have enough to me.

Re:And they say... (1)

Robert Zenz (1680268) | more than 2 years ago | (#38367294)

As far as I know, they *would* have enough money, but it trickles away in the big apparatus NASA has become (bureaucracy etc.).

Re:And they say... (1)

dainbug (678555) | more than 2 years ago | (#38370782)

What really happens is they are saddle with tonnes of regulations (Safety-Sh*t Mostly), and constantly changing expectation and requirements from Congress and the President. Add the politicization of the agency so now there are more Admins/Managers then Engineers. But wait there is more: the fact that they can't (READ: CAN NOT) hold their contractor to timelines, deadlines, or even what the final product is, while still having to pay for overruns, redesigns and mistakes. ( I can see Lockheed running to their favorite bought-and-paid-for congressman now: "Big mean NASA wants us to deliver what we promised and what we were paid for, wah wah.") NASA is far too valuable a resource to let Congress and the President have any say over it.

Er, this is easier? (2)

geekmux (1040042) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

ESA's Rosetta mission (4, Informative)

Trapezium Artist (919330) | more than 2 years ago | (#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... (3, Informative)

Anachragnome (1008495) | more than 2 years ago | (#38367430)

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

Arms race (2)

sp4ni3l (1417195) | more than 2 years ago | (#38368032)

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!

Re:Arms race (2)

mbone (558574) | more than 2 years ago | (#38369514)

Hayabusa had a pellet gun.

Queequeg (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38368292)

should be the craft's name.

Make it a giant white one (2)

phrostie (121428) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

Touch and Go sampling (4, Interesting)

mbone (558574) | more than 2 years ago | (#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.

What direction is UP in space? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38369054)

What direction is UP in space?

Re:What direction is UP in space? (2)

mbone (558574) | more than 2 years ago | (#38369396)

Whichever one you want. Typically, it's chosen to be convenient (in this case, away from the comet).

Paul Watsom, where are you? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38369568)

SAVE THE BABY COMETS!

Re:Paul Watsom, where are you? (1)

Hartree (191324) | more than 2 years ago | (#38370588)

Nuke the baby comets for Jesus?

zap (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38370842)

this thing will be fried before the first harpoon impacts, remember TSS-1R anyone ?

Comet rage (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38371326)

Sure... anger the comet and incur its wrath!

We'll call the spacecraft ... (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 2 years ago | (#38371584)

... the Pequod.

Tired of being unarmed, (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38385390)

NASA just wants to shoot something. Anything.

Personally, I think they should just fire a rocket into it with an exploding warhead and Bruce Willis can catch the parts that fly off....

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