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Ep. 584: Sample Return Missions From Asteroids
"Episode five eighty four asteroid sample return missions to astronomy caster. Weekly facts based journey through the cosmos. Where we help you understand. Not only what we know about how you know what we know. Kane publisher of university with me as always dr pamela. Gay a senior scientist for the planetary science institute and the director of cosmo question. Hey how you doing. I am called. Our heat is out. We need to get it fixed but other than that life is good. Yeah have you recovered from the hang of you. Couple of good night sleep i. I'm going to definitely sleep in this weekend. Streaming for thirty six hours and then going into a full work week is is not. There will be much sleep this weekend. Yes well you've earned it. It was you guys did a great job. You built minecraft. You raised fifteen thousand dollars. If people still want to donate they can go to cosmic dot oregon and contribute to help cover. Cosmic quests expenses. Help pay for the salaries of the people involved including their medical expenses. It's an important work that you're doing and definitely we all appreciate it so definitely if you're having already contribute or even like watch the hang on to found it's all archived until twitch throws it out so and we will be updating as much as we can on to youtube. The last hour was extremely touching memorial to one of our dear friends and we blew up. Ben now rights. Which sometimes you just need to do speaking of. Let's talk about this. This week's episode so with the sample of asteroid ben firmly inside of cyrus rex's return capsule. It's time to bring this treasure home. So scientists can study the composition in history of the space rock. But it's not the only sample return mission out there with japan's high boots to mission also bring asteroid debris home so today. Let's talk about the mission's learned so far today. We're gonna talk about asteroid sample return missions. And but it's not just the to cyrus wrecks which which we watched launch together and separately watched the the whole retrieval process happen. There's high which is one of my favorite asteroid missions ever but there was also high one which i have to admit is the mission i continually forget about even though it was a mission. That was just like okay. Problem going to overcome it okay. Problem can overcome up another one going to overcome and they just had to keep figuring out ways to overcome issues. Yes so let's talk briefly about hybrid one before we go onto the other to the other missions so so high busa one is a mission that i think part of the reason i keep it is it came out right after i finished my phd. I suspect my brain has blocked most of that year out of existence. It was originally scheduled to launch in two thousand and two rocket had a issue with a different mission so they delayed the launch of a wine in order to make sure they are rocket was working and just additional stuff came along the way. They missed their window for their initial asteroid they had to go to a different asteroid but they eventually successfully took off in may two thousand and three and headed their way out to eat a cola. The asteroid that we really really thought ben would look lake. It didn't didn't yeah. I mean if there's one thing that we've learned from these three separate asteroid sample return. Missions is asteroids. Don't look similar to each other. Yeah well unless it's really and banu in which case they're hard to tell apart unless you look closely but ito cholewa really looks like a cashew. The few places has been dipped in granular material. It's it's a cashew with periodically grainy surface and the poor spacecraft though while it was on its way to the little cashew itokawa it found itself in the path of the largest solar flare recorded in modern history. All this is damaged its solar cells and it ended up with less electrical energy than it planned to have a then in two thousand and five. Two of three reaction wheels failed right and in fact the the reaction. I think they were the same reaction. Wheels that we that were lost on kepler and a couple of there was there was a bad batch of reaction wheels out there. Mistakes were made. Yeah yeah so okay. So here's the spacecraft hit by a solar flare down reaction wheels but it still made it it a car. It made it to eat a call It had a bad dress rehearsal for doing it. Sample they finally were able to get there and they released the nerve. Many probe it fails this. Yeah but they made it. They sent back beautiful beautiful data beautiful data and they also sent back a sample. They did yeah and the first and this is what i love is a you know they were hoping to bring back hundreds of grams of of material and and in the end they were able to bring back just grams just a couple of times. Just a few tiny pieces of dust so here. We're talking about like a dimes worth of material. So so it wasn't a lot. But it was a pioneering michigan and after something has been hit by solar flare. You really need to lower your expectations. People and the fact that it succeeded in doing anything after getting blasted by that much radiation testament to how well this stuff is how well shielded. The stuff is it. Had a bad day it kept on going and it returned science. And that's all you can ask for from any space returned science so learning from those lessons the japanese went back and prepared a second mission. And what i love is with their second mission. Haya besa to. They seem to have taken. The approach of we will take every single little tiny robot we possibly can with it flying all of the asteroid all of them at the asteroid. And see what works. Germany's we've got one. Jeff is no problem. Throw it on board. We'll try everything including the kitchen so they had minerva to mascot rover to. They had cameras on board. They had an anti cut. They dropped they had target markers that they dropped to help them maneuver around. They just kept flinging things at review and then eventually they flooding themselves at rigo grabbed a sample and they grabbed a sample with so much energy that they actually sent the asteroid vibrating. According to a paper that came out just in the past forty eight hours. Yeah so it's funny. I was going to bring that up as well. We probably bo saw the same. The same paper that the surface the are actually able to to measure after the space craft bumped into interactive as well as hitting with impacter. They're able able to actually detect shifting movements across the surface of riots in response to the damage that they had done from visiting it. So yeah that that alone is going to be very helpful for for just getting a sense of of like what it might take to be able to move an asteroid in the future if we run across them and sort of shows how much they really are rubble piles and not space rocks and with high visa to take a sample. It attacked radio. It did two different samples the first one it went down and this was a surface sample. It went down and it fired a five. Graham tantalum projectile three hundred meters per second into the surface of radio this allowed them to get a surface sample the material that was blasted up by the projectile they collected but they were not content to merely get a surface sample like any other mission would be content to do now not at all. They want to subsurface sample as well and this is where that antitank weapon came in. They had what was called a small carry on impacter. That carried a two point. Five kilogram copper per jack kc which was shot with explosive propellant into the surface of Creating a fresh crater in the process right and so that is such a brilliant idea that that you know the surface of the asteroid. Okay great you grab a quick sample of the surface but the deeper question is what does it look like underneath the surface which hasn't been blasted by the sun for billions of years. Will you find volatile. Will you find water. Other interesting samples down deep. And so you need to you. Need you need a crater. Like like on mars right the way. The way curiosity is driving up the side of crater to or inns inside a crater looking for essentially the history of mars hybrid to wanted to look at a crater fresh crater on so it made one their crater made the that this is. This is just insane so so they shot ruge. From a distance of five hundred meters and the crater they made was ten meters in diameter exposing pristine material and they did a touchdown sampling of this as well. So so here. They were february. Angelides two thousand nineteen maneuvering their spacecraft to go pick up samples so they have both fresh and not so fresh that they have collected. So before we get onto a cyrus rex. I just wanted to say again like if you are excited about interesting missions across the solar system i highly recommend you follow what the japanese are doing they are just incredibly creative and willing to take big risks and try interesting ideas at a fairly shoestring budget to be able to do this and so high was just like the bible to the perfect example. Had an ion engine it. It had this equipment to methods of doing sample collection. Had it had three to three. Lander rover had one thing that just sort of flip flopped across the surface of the asteroid. Like they just the level of creativity and innovation is just so high. And i have even heard interviews with with people from the jaksa team that worked on this and you can just sense this this really beautiful balance of wanting to get interesting science but also wanting to to test new ideas and and they're not saying Concerned if they don't work out right and and obviously it can go horribly wrong with highway one but it can also go incredibly right and so when you look at their future mission. They've got the the martian moon explorer mission coming up to phobos. You're going to see a version of that. They're going to try all kinds of really clever ideas to study phobos. And and i cannot wait. I think if there's one future mission that i'm really excited about it's going to be the the m so stay tuned on that. Let's let's so high to gathered samples and now it's bringing them home and this is one of the parts of the mission that is most remarkable to me at a gut level like mathematically engineering wise. This should be trivial but they have run the math so that they depart on time fly towards earth release their sample flinging it at our planet so that the planet will rotate underneath the sample and the continent of australia in a fairly specific part of the desert will catch the sample. There's a helicopter involved will catch the sample from high busa. To the fact that we can fling things at the earth from greater than the distance of the moon and nowhere on the earth. They will hit months ahead of time. It's just absolutely incredible. Yeah so australia. Look forward to receiving a sample of an asteroid. The number of this year. We will bring it to you. Live on 'cause incredible twitch all right but that's not the that's to asteroid sample return missions. There is a third service and this is the mission that we got to go. Watch together launch in september of two thousand sixteen and this little mission. I was one that had the youngest nasa of spacecraft today dante lauretta. It was run by really cool. Team of people university of arizona working with international partners nasa centers myriad of other institutions and. Canada had a laser altimeter. The sample they collected is going to end up getting split between the canadian team with that laser. Altimeter that we're going to return to because it was not used as planned the japanese team that they're going to be doing an exchange between The sample that comes back and the new sample that comes back. And then the rest is heading off to arizona for processing so in this case cyrus rex arrived at banu. In december of two thousand and eighteen. We began to get our first high-resolution images in two thousand and nineteen which caused me for one to completely panic. You have a little little skin in the game on this. One i did i did. So the cosmic christ citizen science community was part of the process for mapping out all the hazards benue. Now as i said before we expected benue to look a bit like eat akaba mostly smooth with areas. That were hazardous. We were expecting most of the images that came back would have a few boulders boulders. A few dozen rocks and we just map things out no big deal. The reality was each image had dozens of boulders and hundreds of rocks and all the software that we had written the process. Everything and sort everything. Do everything had to get redone to deal with the complexity of this little world that we found and making it even worse as the space craft approached benue cyrus wrecks in its camera glint of light from pebbles being flung by bhanu space. We had found a rock throwing asteroid. Right right yeah. I mean it's funny when i think i think it was donte was saying the landings the final landing site. That was chosen. I would not want to land a spacecraft. They're like it's a nightmare and yet it was the best possible landing site on on a nightmare rock. Yeah they they had to change their hazard conditions to go from having a area big enough to park a couple semi trucks to having an area big enough to park a couple. Suv's as their safety margin. And so they had this need to find some place that they could go down not hit the wings of the spacecraft on anything and that would be smooth enough that in all likelihood when they're tag instrument which is a flat disk hit the surface it would hit flat in the space craft wouldn't tell more than a few degrees and it turned out the only places that vaguely matched these conditions were areas. That were either craters creditors inside of craters. And these weren't normal looking craters. What these were areas where the rocks were more smashed than the regions around them and smashed rocks were in a fairly circular pattern indicating. This is a crater with the rocks. There got crushed Ninety gale crater where. They ended up. Doing their sample collection was in the northern part of the asteroid about fifty five degrees latitude and it was a crater with a few boulders that they had to make sure they didn't have and because the surface was so much more complex than anticipated they had to take a spacecraft that had been planning to maneuver by laser. Just like a lot of modern cars will use a laser on the front part measure the distance the car in front of them and then back off if they need to when they get too close candidate built instrument. It was supposed to be the way. They've found their way to the surface. Except oh cyrus record. I'm going to complicate it. And what ended up having to be done instead. Programmed vision into the spacecraft allowing it to natural feature mapping right in real time autonomously from eighteen and a half light minutes away from earth. So that the as the space craft is descending it's taking images comparing the images the existing maps and as long as the area below the spacecraft doesn't go read they keep proceeding but this is not how the spacecraft was designed and their ability to retroactively. Add this powerful feature really says something about their programming and navigation teams. It was pretty exciting to watch. The actual sample collection happened a week ago. And you got this like as it was descending to the surface and as they were watching it and they were talking about how closely the spacecraft had gotten to their predicted model and how far away it was and they're also just noting that the spacecraft hadn't hadn't abandoned the head to boarded because it was the spacecraft to make how descending towards the asteroid. and going i think it's still fine. This is yeah. This is okay. I think you know it had tucked in its solar panels and was slowly making its way down to the surface and it just wasn't making the call to abort abort which was amazing and and it was intended that the space craft would touch the surface. Fire off a nitrogen. Canister national took a gentler approach than jaksa fire off nitrogen canister that would then last dust and small particulate nothing bigger than two centimeters could fit up through the capture two and nitrogen blast with deploy and then within five seconds the spacecraft would would pull away accept it turns out the surface of benue wasn't exactly a solid surface right and so instead of tapping the surface of the world. Giving it a nice gentle snoot boop yard. It's snood of cyrus wrexham getting booed by now. No they instead punched. The asteroid going down many centimeters the surface. Like i imagine it's sort of like going into snow. Yeah right like it just dropped. Its sample return sample capsule into snow or its collection you know vacuum cleaner and then and we and we saw as it successfully captured it sample and started to move away from the asteroid. There was debris coming out of the example collector. Yeah it was set in the images that it looked like someone dumped a box of cornflakes outside of the tag. This is the touching go sample collection system and the problem was the way the system was designed is they. They had this desk on the outer ring of the disc. There was essentially metal velcro little tiny metal hoops designed to pick up dust and debris from the surface in the velcro and then in the center there was an opening that was supposed to have a mylar flop that would slide in like shudder to close off the collection tube and make sure that nothing would escape and iraq something got jammed in there and so small material was escaping. It's unknown exactly how much material they got. They were aiming to get roughly two ounces weight of c cell battery and nothing bigger than a c cell battery. That was the goal anything bigger just win to fit into the detector. They don't know how much they got. They think that it was potentially significantly more. There were originally plans to spin the spacecraft. It was such a. It's such a brilliant idea. That how they were going to test. How much sample. They got plan. Was you lift up. Start to rotate the the spacecraft around. And you could detect the wobble from the mass inside the collector as compared to what it was without the mass inside the collector. And that would tell you whether you got a good enough sample or not. But they just decided forget it. We're not gonna do this test. We don't want to risk losing this material because it's easy to get inside the capsule in college day. Just they even delayed a braking maneuver. They were planning to do to keep themselves in the orbit they meant to be it was no acceleration do nothing that could possibly exert force on the sample and cause any more material to escape than was already escaping so several days ahead of plan in fact more like a week ahead of plan They folded the sample collecting. Had up into its return capsule to bring it home and this is a super ingenious way that they did it it. It had this long arm that extended with the disk and suction device on the end and ideally when they spun it because it was this long arm it would be like an ice skater holding a barbell dining one and it just changes the way the spacecraft spins but then taking that arm folding it up and pressing it into a set of latches. So we've we've all had various devices where you can clip something and then when you go to pull it back out. It's like the clip. Suit have gone and you have to fuss with the clips to get your thing out but sliding in an super easy so they very carefully over twenty four hours and here. they could nominate it. They had to see images of every single stop in case debris came out. Dust got in the way they needed to have human beings with eyeballs looking out the images coming in and decide so. They folded the arm image folded. The are more image touched the tag device down in to the capsule to bring things home major. It was fine clipped it in pulled up on the arm. Major was still fine disconnected. The arm made sure it was still fine. They worked around the clock with a thirty seven. Minute round trip or bit of information and at work So now it's going to be coming home it. It's gonna be a little while so they have to wait for everything to get lined back up. They planned the sampling. So that if things didn't go well if they did have to steer off they'd have time to try at least three more times. This is why they had four potential sites. Well it worked on the first try and then they had to speed up their time zone to latch everything in place. Protect everything all up in the capsule to get time to kill. Yeah so they're going to be there until march they are. Now projecting that the orbit alignments and maneuvers will allow them to make it home in september of twenty twenty three. And i look forward to all the images that they're can be able to continue taking seeing just what they did to the surface at nine gale and hopefully even more science will be made possible from a safe distance from safe distance. So win does the sample come home. And where will it go. It's going to go to utah in september. Two thousand twenty four once the samples collected from where it gets thrown in utah. It will be sent down to the johnson. space center. were all space samples. Go right and then divvied out to the canadian japanese and university of arizona partners fantastic. Well cannot wait for all of the samples to come back and for us to finally learn these deep insights about the formation of the solar system. The government environment out there in space. What they're made of do they. Will they be resources that we can use for. The exploration of the solar system is so much to learn from these pristine sample. So let's hope they both safely make it back through the years atmosphere so we've got more than just a couple of grams to to allies of asteroids. This is true. Right thanks pamela. Thank you so much. Do you have any names. I this week this week. We have a bunch of people that we'd like to thank for their contributions over at patriotair dot com slash astronomy cast. These are the people that make it possible for us to do all the things that we do here at astronomy cast. I would like to thank then. Catches chari thomas Joe hallstein sinai's sylvan espy. William andrews collins herald barden haagen. Ben floss stephen. She water merrick. Varney arctic fox nate wiler. Brian gregory mount rucker phillip walker. Ron thorson kevin. Nigga allowed adron dave lackey car thick. Then ca trauman cooper g force one eighty four and ashore cox zara dean mcdaniel paul de disney roland farmer dom chris scheffer hoffer jason. Graham father practice and sarah turnball. Thank you all so much for being part of our patron community. Thank you pamela. We'll see next week. Thank you see you later. Astronomy cast is a joint product universe today and the planetary science institute. Astronomy cast is released under a creative commons attribution license. So love shirt and remix it but please credit to our hosts fraser. Cain and dr pamela. Gay you can get more information on today's show topic on our website. Astronomy cast dot com. This episode was brought to you. Thanks to our generous patrons on patriot. If you want to help keep the show going. Please consider joining our community at patriotair. Dot com slash. Astronomy cast. not only. 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