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Genesis Sample Collection and Return Capsule



The Genesis sample collection and return capsule was mounted on the Genesis spacecraft bus during launch, sample collection, and tranfer back to Earth. It acted as the storage cannister for the solar wind samples after collection and the vehicle to return the samples back to the Earth for retrieval and analysis. The parachute failed to deploy and the capsule crashed, but useful samples were still obtained.

Spacecraft and Subsystems

The Genesis sample collection and return capsule was disc-shaped with a blunt conical top and bottom, 1.5 meters in diameter and 1.31 meters high, with a total mass of about 225 kg. It was mounted on the front of the Genesis spacecraft bus. It contained a 97.3 cm diameter science cannister which held a concentrator and three collector arrays. The collector arrays were flat discs made of hexagons of ultra-pure silicon, silicon carbide, germanium, sapphire, chemically deposited diamond, gold, aluminum, and metallic glass wafers which were exposed to the solar wind. Isotopes of helium, oxygen, nitrogen, neon, radon, and other elements were implanted in the top 100 nm of these materials. The concentrator was an electrostatic mirror which concentrates elements up to neon by a factor of approximately 20. Each collector array was deployed for a different solar wind regime. The capsule was protected by a heat shield and contained a compartment holding a drogue and main parachute with a battery and sensors for deployment.

Mission Profile

The Genesis spacecraft launched successfully at 16:13:40.324 UT on 8 August 2001 on a Delta 7326 (a Delta II Lite launch vehicle with three strap-on solid-rocket boosters and a Star 37FM third stage). Approximately 1 hour later the spacecraft left low Earth orbit on a three month journey out towards the L1 Lagrangian Sun-Earth libration point, 0.01 AU from Earth. It was inserted into halo orbit. On 3 December 2001 the collector arrays were opened and began gathering samples of solar wind particles. It completed 5 halo orbits over 30 months collecting samples. In April of 2004 it ended sample collection and shut the door to the sample collection cannister after 884 days of sample collection. The total estimated sample returned was about 0.4 milligrams, roughly 1E20 ions.

The samples were stowed and sealed in the contamination-tight cannister within the capsule and the spacecraft began a five month return to Earth, flying past the Earth and then returning in order to be positioned for daylight entry. On 8 September 2004 the sample return capsule was released from the main spacecraft bus at about 12:00 UT and re-entered the Earth's atmosphere at 15:52:47 UT (11:53 a.m. EDT, 9:53 a.m. local MDT) and should have deployed a drogue parachute 2 minutes 7 seconds after entry at 33 km altitude. The parachute never deployed and the capsule crashed in the desert at a speed of 311 km/hr, severely damaging the capsule. The science cannister was removed to a clean room and the sample collection fragments recovered and shipped to the Johnson Space Center astromaterials curation facility for distribution to laboratories. The science team has determined that the sample collection fragments, though damaged and contaminated by exposure on impact, are still viable for scientific research and that most of the science goals can be achieved.

Alternate Names

  • GenesisSampleCollectionandReturnCapsule
  • 28453

Facts in Brief

Launch Date: 2001-08-08
Launch Vehicle: Delta II 7326
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral, United States
Mass: 225 kg

Funding Agency

  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration (United States)


  • Planetary Science
  • Space Physics
  • Solar Physics

Additional Information

Questions and comments about this spacecraft can be directed to: Dr. David R. Williams



NameRoleOriginal AffiliationE-mail
Dr. David LindstromProgram ScientistNASA Headquarters
Mr. Chester N. SasakiProject ManagerNASA Jet Propulsion
Dr. Donald S. BurnettMission Principal InvestigatorCalifornia Institute of
Dr. Donald N. SweetnamMission Operations ManagerNASA Jet Propulsion

Selected References

  • Burnett, D. S., et al., The Genesis Discovery mission: Return of solar matter to earth, Space Sci. Rev., 105, No. 3-4, 509-534, 2003.
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