- Press Release
- Jan 31, 2023
NASA Funds Space Center, Partner, to Develop Instrument for Space Mission
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — The Arkansas-Oklahoma Center for Space
and Planetary Science has moved one step closer to launching
an asteroid sample return collector thanks to funding from
NASA recently announced a grant of $330,000 awarded to the
University of Arkansas- and Oklahoma State University-based
center and its industrial partner, SpaceWorks of Tucson,
Ariz., to develop a sample collector for use with the
space center’s Hera space mission.
Hera is a proposal being led by the space center to send a
spacecraft to three near-Earth asteroids, reconnoiter for
2-1/2 months, then swoop down to collect samples from
three sites and return those samples to Earth.
Derek Sears, director of the space center and principal
investigator for the mission, said the center has worked
with SpaceWorks for about three years.
“They have helped us develop mission concepts and
trajectories, and they have helped us in testing
collector ideas,” he said. “They are a first-rate
group and we are very pleased that NASA has shown the
confidence in their ideas and in the Hera mission to
provide this support. This sign of support is probably
worth more than the dollar figure.”
The SpaceWorks collector consists of a plastic tray on
the end of a flexible arm that is pressed into the
surface of the asteroid by the spacecraft. The arm then
folds back to place the tray with four times its own
weight of surface material in a sample return capsule
for return to Earth.
SpaceWorks will supervise the project and handle the
mechanical aspects of building the collector. The space
center will test the collector, using the Andromeda
environmental chamber and microgravity flight tests.
Collaborators at the Virginia Technical Institute will
provide the plastic material. The microgravity tests
will be performed on board NASA’s reduced gravity
facility, an aircraft that flies in parabolic loops
so as to simulate the microgravity of a small asteroid.
The Hera proposal will be submitted to NASA in the summer
of 2003. In the meantime, the team wants to demonstrate
the technical feasibility of the idea by constructing
the prototype and performing tests, Sears said.