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NASA Genesis Probe that was collecting solar particles

Genesis: In Depth

Mission Type: Sample Return
Launch Vehicle: Delta 7326
Launch Site: Kennedy Space Center
NASA Center: Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Spacecraft Mass: 636 kg
Spacecraft Instruments:
1) solar wind collector arrays
2) ion concentrator
3) ion monitor
4) electron monitor
Spacecraft Dimensions: 2.3 m (7.5 feet) long and 2 m (6.6 feet) wide; wingspan of solar array 7.9 m (26 feet) tip to tip
Spacecraft Power: Solar array providing up to 254 watts just after launch; storage via a nickel-hydrogen battery
Total Cost: $264 million total: $164 million spacecraft development and science instruments; $50 million launch; $50 million mission operations and science data analysis

NASA's Genesis spacecraft, built by Lockheed Martin and managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, launched aboard a Delta 7326 vehicle from Kennedy Space Center in August 2001. For more than two years (886 days), Genesis collected samples of the solar wind, i.e., ions from the solar-wind impacted collectors at speeds over 200 km/sec and buried themselves in specially-selected materials. Genesis collected these samples 1.5 million km (1 million miles) from Earth, a point where the Earth and sun's gravities are balanced. The zone is called the Lagrange 1 point. Genesis was the first mission in the present millennium to return with a package of extraterrestrial material.

The solar wind is a convenient sample of the surface layers of the sun, which have preserved the composition of the original solar nebula from which all planetary objects formed. Genesis will focus on determining the ratio of isotopes of different elements in solar matter. There are small, but important differences in the abundance of isotopes of some elements -- most notably oxygen and nitrogen -- among the various solar system materials available for study in Earth's laboratories. These differences are not explained by the standard model for the origin of the solar system.

After the collection period, the spacecraft closed-up and returned the samples to Earth in a Stardust-like sample-return capsule (SRC). On 8 September 2004 the SRC entered Earth's atmosphere as planned, but its gravity switches were oriented incorrectly as the result of a design error and the parachute system failed to deploy. The high-speed (311 km per hour (193 mph)) wreck compromised the SRC and shattered many of the Genesis collectors. However, the Genesis Preliminary Examination Team was able to show that, because the solar-wind ions were buried beneath the surface of the collectors, it is possible to detect and quantify elements in the solar-wind.

In March 2005, Johnson Space Center curatorial staff started allocating solar-wind collectors to the international scientific community. Each allocation will allow scientists to glean information on the composition of the solar wind, allowing us to piece together the chemical and isotopic composition of the solar nebula which formed our solar system. Genesis samples have provided data leading to several important scientific insights into questions related to planetary materials or cosmochemistry. The cosmochemical and solar research on Genesis samples will continue for decades.



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