The Wirtanen Analysis and Surface Probe: Concept for a New Frontiers Comet Surface Sample Return Mission
Karpowicz, Bryan M.
Balint, Tibor S.
MetadataShow full item record
As participants in NASA's 2007 Planetary Science Summer School, we have designed a New Frontiers class mission to extract a 0.5 kg surface sample from a cometary nucleus and return it to Earth. Comets contain primordial material from the formation of the Solar System (Morbidelli & Brown, 2004) and analysis of such material can answer fundamental questions regarding the composition of the early proto-planetary disk and the origin of water and possibly of life on Earth. Laboratory analysis of a comet nucleus sample addresses goals set in NASA's 2006 Solar System Exploration Roadmap and the NRC Decadal Survey. Our mission architecture, chosen to optimize science and the potential for a successful sample return within a New Frontiers budget, consists of a combined orbiter/lander craft designed for a nominal nine year mission starting in 2015. Upon rendezvous with comet Wirtanen, the orbiter/lander maps the nucleus for sixty days with two medium-field cameras which provide stereographic images for characterization of comet morphology and identification of suitable landing sites. After the sixty-day survey, the craft descends to the comet nucleus, anchors itself to the surface, and surveys the immediate area to identify a sampling site. A sample is obtained with a scoop-equipped robotic arm and sealed inside a Stardust-type Earth Entry Vehicle (EEV). Following sampling, a minimum configuration Earth Return Vehicle (ERV) containing the EEV is spring-ejected away from the surface and placed into an Earth return trajectory. Four hours from Earth, the EEV separates and returns to Earth. In this poster, we outline the spacecraft architecture including instrumentation and spacecraft subsystems, overall trajectory, mission timeline, risk assessment, and cost considerations.