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Crashing Rockets Could Lead To Novel Sample-Return Technology

Soulskill posted about 9 months ago | from the have-you-tried-asking-the-russians-for-their-data dept.

NASA 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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18 comments

Rockets are limited (1)

For a Free Internet (1594621) | about 9 months ago | (#45277065)

People, we desperately need to break out of the conceptual straightjacket of three dimensions. If only scientists would listen to me and read the thousands of letters that I have sent to NASAR, Bill Gates, Bill O'Reilly, Bill Clinton, and other respected Schientists, they would have realized that you can get inside solid objects with ease just by travelling in the fourth dimentian. This is something I do on a regular basis, and have done since I was six years old. Once you learn it, it's like riding a bike, you can't get off it ever! Laura, I love you!

Re:Rockets are limited (1)

fisted (2295862) | about 9 months ago | (#45278883)

People, we desperately need to break out of the conceptual straightjacket of three dimensions. If only scientists would listen to me and read the thousands of letters that I have sent to NASAR, Bill Gates, Bill O'Reilly, Bill Clinton, and other respected Schientists, they would have realized that you can get inside solid objects with ease just by travelling in the fourth dimentian. This is something I do on a regular basis, and have done since I was six years old. Once you learn it, it's like riding a bike, you can't get off it ever!

Until here, i was all like "haha, yeah."

Laura, I love you!

Well, now you remind me of this guy. [imgur.com]

Fukushima? (1)

pat0514 (2826615) | about 9 months ago | (#45277085)

"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

Re:Fukushima? (2)

Gareth Iwan Fairclough (2831535) | about 9 months ago | (#45278873)

"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.

Re:Fukushima? (2)

wiredlogic (135348) | about 9 months ago | (#45280477)

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.

Smashingly brilliant! (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about 9 months ago | (#45277169)

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

Re:Smashingly brilliant! (1)

citizenr (871508) | about 9 months ago | (#45277593)

Thats one word you dont want to hear from plane Captain.

It's a bucket on a string. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45277173)

Isn't it?

Lithobraking (1)

Optimal Cynic (2886377) | about 9 months ago | (#45277423)

Everyone who's played Kerbal Space Program knows how useful lithobraking is.

Re:Lithobraking (1)

whodunit (2851793) | about 9 months ago | (#45278237)

With the new springy suspension landing legs in the latest version, it actually works, too.

the real sponsor (2)

Gravis Zero (934156) | about 9 months ago | (#45277529)

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

Porpoising (2)

DougF (1117261) | about 9 months ago | (#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.

Prior art? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45277679)

Didn't some space probe already do this to an asteroid?

Re:Prior art? (1)

Captain Hook (923766) | about 9 months ago | (#45277799)

There have been impacts with the moon and asteroids, but the point of those was to kick up lots of dust and then use spectral analysis of light shining through the dust to examine what it's made of.

This is the different in that it's aim is to return a physical sample in a container of later more controlled analysis.

I think I read this before (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45278163)

"The Andromeda Strain" is the first book that comes to mind.

Physics (2)

fph il quozientatore (971015) | about 9 months ago | (#45278393)

That's what happens when you let a particle physicist design the experiment. (relevant: http://abstrusegoose.com/156 [abstrusegoose.com] )

crashing rockets, sample return (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45279177)

Funny how history repeats itself. Back in the late 60's, there was a system called "Ping-Pong" not making this up folks. It was a rocket with a camera or air sampler in the nose and a rocket motor at both ends that when fired, followed a pre-determined trajectory almost to the point of impact, then took a picture or sample and the rocket motor in the nose fired, sending the device almost exactly back over its trajectory to point of origin. The fins simly slid back and forth on the body tube so that they changed ends from inertia when the retund motor fired. Simple and elegant. Where are those people to day that come up with this stuff?

Warning to UW rocketry students (1)

Applehu Akbar (2968043) | about 9 months ago | (#45290985)

Don't give Allegiant Airlines* any ideas, dammit!

* EU: Ryan Air.

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