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Pendine, Wales (UPI) Jul 12, 2013
British engineers report they have tested a projectile technology they believe could be used to explore worlds within the solar system.
A 44-pound steel "penetrator" equipped with instruments was fired at a speed of 760 mph into a 10-ton block of ice, simulating the penetrator impacting with the surface of Jupiter's moon Europa, they said. It decelerated rapidly but both its structure and its interior components remained intact, the BBC reported Friday.
Such a projectile could be an effective and inexpensive way to land instruments on other worlds -- and such instruments could include seismometers to study the interior of Mars or a compact chemistry laboratory to check for organic microbial activity on the icy moons of Jupiter or Saturn -- the researchers said.
The test projectile had to cope with a peak deceleration of 24,000 Gs.
"It was really successful because the entry velocity was higher than expected and all the systems we've looked at so far have survived," Marie-Claire Perkinson, the program's industrial leader from Astrium UK, said.
The space penetrator was originally proposed 10 years ago for a British lunar mission called Moonlite, and although that plan was abandoned the principle of a "hard lander" was picked up by the European Space Agency, which went on with the research.
"Penetrators offer a number of advantages over 'soft landers', which have to slow down to reach the surface safely," ESA project manager Sanjay Vijendran said. "They would enable you to get deep into the sub-surface essentially for free, up to three meters (10 feet) without having to drill."
A flight-ready system could be ready before the end of the decade, the researchers said.
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