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NASA Facts Genesis Solar Wind Sample Return Mission 2004

NASA Facts Genesis Solar Wind Sample Return Mission 2004

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Published by Bob Andrepont

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Published by: Bob Andrepont on Feb 13, 2011
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Genesis will bring back samples of solar matterin the form of the solar wind for analysis in Earthlaboratories, in order to better understand the originof the solar system.Genesis will head out of Earth's atmosphere toa location where it is balanced between the Sun's andEarth’s gravities. Once there,it will open and expose col-lector arrays of ultrapurematerials such as sapphire,gold and diamond to captureparticles from the solar wind.
Science Background
All the objects in oursolar system originated froma cloud of interstellar gas,dust and ice, known as thesolar nebula, which scientistsassume was relatively homo-geneous in its chemical andisotopic composition.In contrast, the most strikingfeature of the present solarsystem is the great diversityamong its objects. Even thesmallest moons around outersolar system planets appear to differ among them-selves. Meteorites can show great differences incomposition from their parent asteroids and cometsin the asteroid belt. Yet all this diversity appears tohave arisen from a comparatively homogeneous solarnebula.To know the conditions, processes and events inthe solar nebula that produced these highly diverseobjects, scientists will compare the chemical and iso-topic compositions of the planets with the solar nebu-la compositions provided by Genesis. For the firsttime, precise information will be available to modelthese questions. Genesis will also investigate funda-mental assumptions, such as whether or not solar andnebular compositions are really identical.The Sun's outer layer from which the solar windemanates has the same composition as the originalsolar nebula. The solar system was formed by thegravitational collapse of aninterstellar gas-dust-icecloud. Though the interior of the Sun has been modified bynuclear reactions, the outerlayers preserve the initialsolar composition because nomatter is exchanged betweenthe interior and the surface of the Sun.The collectionapproach used by Genesiswas successfully demonstrat-ed by the University of Bern,Switzerland, during theApollo missions to the Moon.An aluminum foil flag wasplanted on the Moon's sur-face and, since the Moon hasno atmosphere or magneticfield, exposed to the solarwind at the beginning of the mission and brought inat the end. The Apollo experiment measured onlyhelium and neon isotopes, but obtained results of great importance, Genesis will be able to measuremore elements, more precisely.
Genesis Mission Science Objectives:
Gather precise data about the relative amounts of the different forms of a given element in solar compo-sition.
For some elements -- like oxygen or neon -- itis certain that these isotopic ratios will differ fromthose found in the same elements on Earth.
Genesis SolarWind Sample Return Mission
National Aeronautics andSpace Administration
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of TechnologyPasadena, CA91109
Significantly improve knowledge about the differingamounts of elements in solar composition, called solar abundances
. Genesis’goal is to improve by atleast threefold the accuracy of estimates of the abun-dance of each element. The best present source of elemental abundances has uncertainties in its model-ing that result in significant errors in the calculatedabundances.
Obtain separate samples of the three different typesor regimes of solar wind 
. These will be collected sep-arately, and compared to the bulk of the solar wind.
Provide a reservoir of solar matter for 21st centuryscience.
The mission phase of sample analysis willnot consume all of the available collector material.The remainder will be carefully curated for futurestudies. There need be only one solar wind samplereturn mission.Building on these general objectives, the Genesisscience team has developed a set of 18 specific mea-surement objectives to address specific scienceissues. For example, differences in the solar and ter-restrial isotopic compositions of nitrogen and thenoble gases (neon, argon, krypton and xenon) willform the basis for definitive modeling of the extentof losses from Earth's atmosphere early in the historyof our planet.
Science Operations
The part of the spacecraft that returns to Earth,the sample return capsule, contains a canister thatholds the solar wind collector materials, protectingthem from contamination during launch and reentry.The canister was built at the Jet PropulsionLaboratory, then cleaned in an ultra-pure environ-ment at Johnson Space Center, before the collectormaterials were loaded. Also inside the canister is asolar wind concentrator, a bowl-shaped instrumentthat will focus the ions in the solar wind to 20 timesits normal concentration on a special set of targetmaterials. The enhanced concentration is necessaryto measure elements such as oxygen and nitrogenabove the impurity background in all available mate-rials.After the craft enters its orbit, the solar collectorsfold out, allowing ions and particles from the solarwind to embed themselves in small hexagonal collec-tor tiles on the face of the arrays. The solar wind con-centrator is exposed as the collector arrays move out.As time passes, the spacecraft encounters the dif-ferent solar wind regimes. These are recognized byelectron and ion monitors located on the spacecraft’smain body outside the sample return capsule. Thesignals from the monitors to recognize the differentsolar wind regimes are processed by onboard com-puters. Once a regime is identified, a collector arraydedicated to this regime is deployed and two othersets of arrays are hidden, providing independent sam-ples of the different regimes.
Mission Profile
The spacecraft was launched on August 8,2001, from Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral,Florida, on a Delta 7326 rocket. It left Earth's atmos-phere and traveled out to a point where gravity fromthe Earth and Sun are precisely balanced, called theL1 Lagrange point, clear of Earth's magnetosphere.In early November 2001, it entered into a halo orbitaround L1 -- an orbit around a point in space, not aparticular body. The collector arrays opened up in
Genesis’sample return capsule 

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