NASA Developing Comet Harpoon for Sample Return

  • Released Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Since the beginning of the space age NASA has explored our solar system, bringing back unprecedented scientific knowledge. However only a handful of missions over the past 50 years have actually collected and returned samples from these far off places.

Scientists at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. are in the early stages of working out the best design for a sample-collecting comet harpoon.

As the harpoon penetrates into the comet, it fills its inner sample cartridge with subsurface material as it goes deeper.  When it reaches its maximum depth the sample cartridge closure mechanism shuts, trapping all the material inside it.  The sample cartridge is then withdrawn from the outer harpoon sheath and pulled back into the spacecraft.

As the harpoon penetrates into the comet, it fills its inner sample cartridge with subsurface material as it goes deeper. When it reaches its maximum depth the sample cartridge closure mechanism shuts, trapping all the material inside it. The sample cartridge is then withdrawn from the outer harpoon sheath and pulled back into the spacecraft.

The sample is then brought back to a terrestrial laboratory where scientists examine the collected samples in a pristine environment.

The sample is then brought back to a terrestrial laboratory where scientists examine the collected samples in a pristine environment.

Many designs have been tested for penetration depth in several different material.  This design is the most promising.

Many designs have been tested for penetration depth in several different material. This design is the most promising.

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Credits

Please give credit for this item to:
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Release date

This page was originally published on Tuesday, December 13, 2011.
This page was last updated on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 at 1:53 PM EDT.


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Tapes

This visualization originally appeared on the following tapes:
  • The Comet Nucleus Sample Return Mission (ID: 2011054)
    Tuesday, December 13, 2011 at 5:00AM
    Produced by - Werner Benger (NASA)