Genius NASA gun to protect Mars Sample Return spacecraft by shooting down meteorites

NASA is preparing a meteorite protective measure for its Mars Sample Return spacecraft with the help of this gun.

| Updated on: Oct 14 2022, 14:13 IST
Joy! NASA’s asteroid mission achieved mission impossible, created history
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1/6 Nasa’s DART was the first demonstration of the “kinetic impactor” method of asteroid mitigation. This was the first time, when humans altered the path of a celestial body purposefully. (AFP)
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2/6 NASA chief Bill Nelson said, “All of us have a responsibility to protect our home planet. After all, it’s the only one we have. This mission shows that NASA is trying to be ready for whatever the universe throws at us.” He added that the US agency has proven that it can defend the planet. (via REUTERS)
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3/6 Before the crash, asteroid Dimorphous took about 11 hours and 55 minutes to orbit the larger asteroid Didymos, whereas, post crash, it took only 11 hours and 23 minutes to orbit the larger asteroid. (via REUTERS)
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4/6 DART impact has shortened the orbit by 32 minutes. None of these space rocks - Dimorphous as well as Didymos pose any threat to our planet, hence it was an ideal target to carry out the DART mission. At the time of collision, the DART spacecraft was traveling at 14000 (22,530-kmph) miles per hour. (via REUTERS)
5/6 The DART team is currently measuring how efficiently the spacecraft transferred its momentum to the asteroid. “DART has given us some fascinating data about both asteroid properties and the effectiveness of a kinetic impactor as a planetary defense technology. The DART team is continuing to work on this rich dataset to fully understand this first planetary defense test of asteroid deflection,” said Nancy Chabot, the DART coordination lead at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in a press statement. (via REUTERS)
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6/6 Didymos, the larger asteroid of the binary pair is about a half mile (780 meters or 2559 feet) in diameter. The moonlet, Dimorphos, is about 525 feet (160 meters) in diameter. (via REUTERS)
NASA Mars sample return mission
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Check out this NASA plan to destroy micrometeorites using a light-gas gun. (NASA)

Spacecrafts are very advanced but highly sensitive vehicles which have to withstand the tremendous pressure of the vacuum in space. Although they are built to withstand the harsh conditions of outer space, they are still at a risk of being damaged by asteroids and meteorites. Even the smallest meteorite could damage the spacecraft enough to jeopardize the mission. NASA recently concluded its first planetary defense test to protect Earth against potential asteroid impacts. It seems like the space agency is planning the same strategy for its other spacecraft.

NASA is currently testing a light-gas gun which hatter micrometeorite fragments and other space debris to protect its upcoming Mars Sample Return mission. The journey from Mars to Earth is long enough as it is and the space agency is doing everything possible to make sure that the scientific samples from Mars reach Earth safely.

Bruno Sarli, NASA engineer at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center said in a NASA blog, “Micrometeorites are a potential hazard for any space mission, including NASA's Mars Sample Return. The tiny rocks can travel up to 50 miles per second. At these speeds, "even dust could cause damage to a spacecraft.”

The tests are currently being carried out at the Remote Hypervelocity Test Laboratory at NASA's White Sands Test Facility in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The space agency is using Two Stage Light Gas Guns which shoot small pellets at a speed of more than 5 miles per second to destroy the space debris. According to NASA, the first stage uses standard gunpowder as propellant. The second stage uses a highly compressed hydrogen which is further sent into a smaller tube, increasing the gun pressure even further. This is a highly complicated and dangerous process and any explosion from the gun could level the whole building, according to NASA.

What is the Mars Sample Return Mission?

According to NASA, the Mars Sample Return programme is a series of missions to retrieve scientific samples of Mars collected by the Perseverance rover. One of the most ambitious space missions ever planned, the Mars Sample Return mission would allow scientists to study those samples using state-of-the-art technology here on Earth.

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First Published Date: 14 Oct, 13:52 IST
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