Press Release

NASA to Capture Fiery Genesis Re-entry with Eyes in the Sky

By SpaceRef Editor
September 1, 2004
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NASA to Capture Fiery Genesis Re-entry with Eyes in the Sky

Scientists expect to get the most detailed look at a hypervelocity
re-entry when NASA uses an aerial laboratory to observe the fiery
return of the Genesis sample return capsule from interplanetary space.

On Sept. 8, 2004, NASA will send the U.S. Air Force’s Flying Infrared
Signatures Technologies Aircraft (FISTA) to an altitude of 39,000
feet for a front row seat to the sample return capsule’s (SRC) fiery
re-entry. The aircraft will be fitted with multiple scientific
instruments including ultraviolet, infrared and visible-light
spectrometers, as well as high-resolution still cameras and
high-definition video cameras. Researchers from NASA Ames Research
Center, located in California’s Silicon Valley, and the SETI
Institute, Mountain View, Calif., will observe this ‘artificial’
meteor. Principal investigator and meteor astronomer Peter Jenniskens
of the SETI Institute is leading the diverse and independent science

“Genesis will be the first of several return capsules as part of
NASA’s ongoing science and exploration missions,” said Paul
Wercinski, the Genesis observation campaign project manager at NASA
Ames. “This is a unique opportunity to study the physics of re-entry
up close and assess the effectiveness of thermal protection systems
for re-entry vehicles. What we learn from Genesis will be useful for
those future missions,” he added.

Genesis, launched in August 2001, captured samples from the
storehouse of 99 percent of all the material in our solar system –
the sun. After they return, these samples, collected on wafers of
gold, sapphire, silicone and diamond, will be analyzed by scientists.
The samples will provide vital information on the composition of the
sun, and shed light on the origins of our solar system.

Scientists at NASA Ames are keenly interested in the airborne
observations in order to understand how the capsule’s heat shield
performs under these ‘super-orbital speed entry’ conditions. These
observations may help develop the tools used to simulate re-entry

“One of our key objectives is to acquire flight data that
substantiate our ability to predict the amount of thermal radiation
that heats the capsule during reentry,” said Dr. Dean Kontinos, chief
of the NASA Ames Reacting Flow Environments Branch. “These thermal
radiation models are essential for designing future exploration

The Genesis SRC will return from interplanetary space and turn
briefly into a bright meteor over Oregon and Nevada. The capsule will
experience peak heating conditions as it decelerates near the
Oregon/Nevada border enroute to Utah. During this heating phase of
the capsule, the airborne observers will train their cameras at the
‘artificial’ meteor. The Genesis mission will end over the U.S. Air
Force Utah Test and Training Range, where the capsule will be

The re-entry is of particular interest to meteor astronomers since
the SRC is an analog to meter-sized asteroids that deposit organic
material in Earth’s atmosphere. The return of the Genesis capsule is
like a meteor on queue, giving scientists a unique opportunity to
study what happens during re-entry.

“We are interested in the physical and chemical conditions in the
shockwave that can change the organic material in asteroids into
pre-biotic molecules for life’s origins,” Jenniskens said.

Organizations participating in the Genesis SRC aerial observation
campaign are: NASA Ames; the NASA Engineering and Safety Center,
Hampton, Va.; the SETI Institute, Mountain View, Calif.; Aerospace
Corporation, El Segundo, Calif.; Lockheed Martin, Bethesda, Md.;
Science Applications International Corporation, San Diego, Calif.;
the Air Force Academy, USAF, Colo.; University of Alaska, Fairbanks;
University of California, San Francisco; University of New Mexico,
Albuquerque; University of Regina, Regina, Canada; University of
Utah, Logan; the Sandia National Laboratory, Albuquerque, N.M. and
the Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, N.M.

FISTA is operated by the U.S. Air Force 412 Test Wing at Edwards Air
Force Base, Edwards, Calif. During the decent, the aircraft will
follow prescribed safety procedures and maintain a safe distance from
the capsule’s trajectory. FISTA is a modified KC-135 aircraft
previously used as an aerial laboratory for the observation of the
Leonid meteor storms.

The Genesis SRC aerial observation campaign is funded by the NASA
Engineering and Safety Center, Hampton, Va., as a means to better
understand the phenomena of high-speed entry of return capsules.
NASA’s JPL manages the Genesis mission for NASA’s Science Mission
Directorate, Washington.

For more information about the Genesis SRC entry observation campaign, go to:

For more information about the Genesis Mission, visit:

SpaceRef staff editor.