Successful first test of high speed 'penetrator'

Jun 09, 2008

High speed ‘penetrators’ that could one day be used to breach the surface of planets have successfully passed their first test in the UK, accelerating to 700 miles per hour before striking their target. A team led by University College London (UCL) test-fired the projectiles in Wales, recording a peak of 20,000 gee upon impact (where humans can survive up to 10 gee).

Penetrators, which can carry data-collecting systems and sensors, are being developed as an alternative to manned space flight for the future exploration of moons in our solar system.

The team, led by Professor Alan Smith from UCL’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory, the University of Surrey, Birkbeck College, Imperial College, the Open University and QinetiQ ran the first three test firings of the high speed penetrators at QinetiQ’s long test track in Pendine, South Wales in May 2008. The projectiles were secured to a rocket sledge and fired along a rail track.

The penetrators, which contained a data- and sample-collecting system, a variety of sensors, accelerometers, a seismometer and a mass spectrometer (for analysis) hit a sand target at around 700 miles per hour. The electronics remained fully operational during impact, recording the deceleration in minute detail which peaked at about 20,000 gee (20,000 times the acceleration due to gravity, where humans can only survive around 10 gee).

Penetrator technology is being developed for future space exploration, to pierce the surface of planetary bodies such as our moon and the icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn. Penetrators offer a low cost approach to planetary exploration, but the enormous impact forces have meant that scientists have so far been reluctant to trust them.

Professor Smith said: "Prior to this trial, we had to rely on computer modelling and analysis. As far as we can tell the trial has been enormously successful, with all aspects of the electronics working correctly during and after the impact. I congratulate the team on this really impressive achievement – to get everything right first time is wonderful, and a tribute to British technology and innovation."

The impact trial is part of a series of technical developments and studies in preparation for future planetary space missions. These include the proposed UK MoonLITE mission to the Moon which is hoped to be launched in 2013, and possible missions to moons of the outer planets – Europa, Ganymede, Enceladous and Titan. The trials were funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council as part of MSSL’s Rolling Grant.

Source: University of Surrey

Explore further: NASA engineer advances new daytime star tracker

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Telescope to seek dust where other Earths may lie

1 hour ago

The NASA-funded Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer, or LBTI, has completed its first study of dust in the "habitable zone" around a star, opening a new door to finding planets like Earth. Dust is a ...

Stepping stones to NASA's human missions beyond

18 hours ago

"That's one small step for (a) man; one giant leap for mankind." When Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the moon, many strides came before to achieve that moment in history. The same is true for a human ...

UA-led HiRISE camera spots long-lost space probe on Mars

Jan 16, 2015

The UK-led Beagle 2 Mars Lander, thought lost on Mars since 2003, has been found partially deployed on the surface of the planet, ending the mystery of what happened to the mission more than a decade ago. ...

Recommended for you

NASA engineer advances new daytime star tracker

8 hours ago

Scientists who use high-altitude scientific balloons have high hopes for their instruments in the future. Although the floating behemoths that carry their instruments far into the stratosphere can stay aloft ...

Image: Sounding rockets launch into an aurora

8 hours ago

The interaction of solar winds and Earth's atmosphere produces northern lights, or auroras, that dance across the night sky and mesmerize the casual observer. However, to scientists this interaction is more ...

Gully patterns document Martian climate cycles

8 hours ago

Geologists from Brown University have found new evidence that glacier-like ice deposits advanced and retreated multiple times in the midlatitude regions of Mars in the relatively recent past.

Europe to resume satnav launches in March: Arianespace

9 hours ago

Europe in March will resume satellite launches for its troubled Galileo navigation system, hoping to boost by at least six the number of orbiters this year, Arianespace and the European Commission said Wednesday.

The two faces of Mars

11 hours ago

A moon-sized celestial object that crashed into the south pole: ETH researchers use a simulation to demonstrate why Mars consists of two notably different hemispheres.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.