[meteorite-list] Scientists hope to land spacecraft on asteroid
From: Darren Garrison <cynapse_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Fri, 19 Sep 2008 19:40:37 -0400
Scientists hope to land spacecraft on asteroid
Published Date: 20 September 2008
By Jenny Haworth
EUROPEAN scientists are hoping to land a spacecraft on an asteroid to help
research into the origins of Earth. Known as Marco Polo, the mission, run by
scientists and engineers could take place in the next ten years.
The aim would be to bring back material from an asteroid to learn more about how
our solar system developed.
A small asteroid ? less than a mile across ? would be selected near Earth. A
spacecraft would land and drill for dust and rubble.
Sattelite manufacturers Astrium in the UK and OHB in Germany are undertaking a
study to assess the type of spacecraft that would be needed to carry out the
Dr Ralph Cordey from Astrium said: "We've got to look at all elements of the
mission ? how we would design the mission, how to design the trajectory to one
of a number of possible asteroids, how to optimise that so we use the smallest
spacecraft, the least fuel and the smallest rocket."
Professor Andrew Collier Cameron, an astronomer from the University of St
Andrews, said the venture could help solve the mystery of the origins of planets
"Getting samples is very, very important," said Prof Collier Cameron. "It gives
us a sample of primordial material left over from the time when the solar system
Asteroids are lumps of debris left over from the formation of the solar system
about 4.6 billion years ago.
They can provide pristine material to help scientists find out how planets could
evolve from dust particles that built up to form gravel-like rocks.
A final decision on whether to approve the mission will be made by the European
Space Agency (ESA) in a few years.
If approved, the mission would launch in about 2017.
The mission could provide considerable challenges. If the spacecraft does not
approach the asteroid correctly, it could be damaged or could bounce back off
It is expected that up 300g of dust and pebbles could be stored in a sealed
capsule in the probe. It would release the capsule close to Earth for a
After it landed, the capsule would be opened in a clean facility to make sure
there was no contamination of the samples.
ESA has an exploration roadmap for the missions it wishes to conduct in the
coming years. Marco Polo is being considered under its Cosmic Visions programme,
and is one of a number of competing ideas in a class of missions that could cost
in the region of 300 million (?238 million).
Such a mission could help develop the technology needed for the more challenging
task of landing on and leaving a planet that has a much bigger gravitational
pull, such as Mars.
THE Japanese recently attempted to grab samples off the surface of Asteroid
However, it is still not clear whether the spacecraft managed to capture any
material. The probe is due to return to Earth in 2010.
The Americans gathered information about Asteroid Eros with their NEAR Shoemaker
probe, which orbited close to the asteroid to collect data in 2000.
They have also sent the Dawn spacecraft to rendezvous with Asteroid Vesta in
2011 before going on to visit Asteroid Ceres in 2015.
Europe's Rosetta probe, which is en route to a comet, took close-up pictures of
Asteroid Steins during a flyby earlier this month.
Ultimately, it is possible that astronauts could visit an asteroid. The US space
agency is currently studying how this might be done.
(in honor of the date, passed through here
Europeans Lay Ou' Plans t' Brin' Asteroid Chunks Aft t' Earth
Th' European Space Agency (ESA) be considerin' a space voyage called Marco Polo,
in which a spacecraft would land on a wee asteroid, drill into its surface t'
collect samples o' rock an' dust, an' then fly aft t' Earth 'ere 't would drop
its sample capsule down t' th' surface. Two satellite manufacturin' companies be
currently conductin' a feasibility study; if ESA signs off on th' proposal,
Marco Polo could sail off into space in 2017.
Asteroids be chunks o' debris port o'er from th' chaotic mass that spun around
th' young Sun durin' th' formation o' th' Solar System about 4.6 billion voyages
ago. Th' rest o' th' material coalesced into planets [Th' Daily Mail].
Researchers say that studyin' th' composition o' an asteroid could give them
insight into how th' solar system formed. Th' roughly $430 cargo holds o' voyage
would also serve as a warm-up fer a hypothetical round-trip journey t' Mars, as
't would enable th' development o' technology needed fer gettin' up an' down
from a large planetary body wi' a much bigger gravitational pull [Telegraph].
Marco Polo wouldna be th' first spacecraft t' alight on an asteroid, or t' try
t' brin' aft a souvenir from one. In 2001, NASA brought th' NEAR Shoemaker
spacecraft down fer a landin' on th' nearby asteroid Eros, from 'ere 't
continued t' send data fer about two tides. Landin' can be tricky, tho: In 2005,
Japan?s Hayabusa spacecraft attempted t' land briefly on th' Itokawa asteroid
an' collect a rock sample, but malfunctions an' communication blackouts
bedeviled th' voyage. Still, Japanese engineers b'lieve Hayabusa collected some
dust that swirled up from th' asteroid?s surface, an' be eagerly awaitin' th'
craft?s return t' Earth in 2010.
While robotic rovers an' probes be havin' conducted many noteworthy experiments
on extraterrestrial bodies, so-called sample return missions be o' increasin'
interest t' scientists. Although in-situ measurements provide remarkable
insights, so much more would be learnt if materials be brought aft t' Earth
laboratories, 'ere th' full panoply o' modern analytical technologies can be
deployed [BBC News]. ESA an' NASA be havin' also discussed cooperatin' on a
sample return voyage t' Mars, although th' $4.5 t' $8 billion price tag fer such
a voyage be dauntin'.
Received on Fri 19 Sep 2008 07:40:37 PM PDT