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  Sample Return Capsule

The sample return capsule is a blunt-nosed cone with a diameter of 152 centimeters (60 inches). It has five major components: a heat shield, backshell, sample return canister, parachute system and avionics.

The total mass of the capsule, including the parachute system, is 205 kilograms (420 pounds).

A hinged clamshell mechanism opens and closes the capsule. The science canister housing the solar wind collector arrays and ion concentrator fits inside, with a central rotating mechanism to extend the collector arrays. The capsule is encased in a carbon impregnated material known as carbon-carbon and an ablative material called SLA- 561 to protect the samples stowed in its interior from the heat of reentry. A parachute activated by a mortar unit is carried inside the capsule and will be used to slow its descent.

Heatshield thumbnail
Genesis Heatshield

The heat shield is made of a graphite-epoxy composite covered with a thermal protection system. The outermost thermal protection layer is made of carbon-carbon. The capsule heat shield remains attached to the capsule throughout descent and serves as a protective cover for the sample canister at touchdown. The heat shield is designed to remove more than 99 percent of the initial kinetic energy of the sample return capsule.

Backshell thumbnail-size phot
Genesis Backshell

The backshell structure is also made of a graphite-epoxy composite covered with a thermal protection system: a cork-based material called SLA-561V that was developed by Lockheed Martin for use on the Viking missions to Mars, and have been used on several missions including Genesis, Pathfinder, Stardust and the Mars Exploration Rover missions. The backshell provides the attachment points for the parachute system, and protects the capsule from the effects of recirculation flow of heat around the capsule.

The science canister is an aluminum enclosure containing the specialized collector arrays and ion concentrator. On the inside of the lid of the science canister is a bulk solar wind collector array. The specialized collector arrays are rotated out from inside the science canister. Underneath the stowed collector arrays, the ion concentrator forms the bottom of the science canister. The canister is inside the sample return capsule, which is mounted to an equipment deck suspended between the backshell and heat shield on a set of support struts.

The parachute system consists of a mortar-deployed 2.1-meter (6.8-foot) drogue chute to provide stability at supersonic speeds, and a main chute 10.5 by 3.1 meters (about 34.6 by 12.1 feet).

Inside the canister a gas cartridge will pressurize a mortar tube and expel the drogue chute. The drogue chute will be deployed at an altitude of approximately 33 kilometers (108,000 feet) to provide stability to the capsule until the main chute is released. A gravity-switch sensor and timer will initiate release of the drogue chute. Based on information from timer and backup pressure transducers, a small pyrotechnic device will cut the drogue chute from the capsule at about 6.7 kilometers altitude (22,000 feet). As the drogue chute moves away, it will extract the main chute. At the time of capture, the capsule will be traveling forward at approximately 12 meters per second (30 miles per hour) and descending at approximately 4 meters per second (9 miles per hour). button
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Curator: Aimee Meyer
Updated: November 2009

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