Collection of Regolith Experiment (CORE) on a Commercial Suborbital Vehicle

PI: Josh Colwell, University of Central Florida

Missions to asteroids pose technical challenges unlike those to larger bodies. Dusty regolith under extreme low gravity creates conditions where contact with the surface by manned or unmanned missions stir up dust that may hamper the mission objectives. Also, regolith collection for the purpose of sample return or in-situ analysis may be achieved by a variety of different mechanical designs of a collector mechanism. Both the performance of the collecting mechanism as well as the dust kicked up by contact of the mechanism with the surface needs to be tested under microgravity conditions. Regolith in Earth-based laboratories behaves differently than under microgravity conditions. We intend to test a dusty regolith retrieval mechanism in microgravity conditions on a sub-orbital rocket in order to characterize the issues associated with activities on an asteroid.

Technology Areas (?)
  • TA07 Human Exploration Destination Systems
Problem Statement

We propose an experimental program that tests the collection of asteroid regolith by subjecting the experiment to microgravity conditions which will closely simulate the environmental conditions on the surface of an asteroid. Asteroid 1999 RQ36 that will be explored by OSIRIS-Rex beginning in 2019 has a mass ~ 10-12 times less than the Moon. Particular interest at near-zero gravity will be emphasized in order to determine the effects of very low gravity on regolith collection and contact with instrumentation.

Technology Maturation

The reduced-gravity regolith collection experiments will advance the TRL of experiment hardware for future scientific experiments on asteroids. The technology described has been extensively tested in a laboratory setting and is ready for analysis in a reduced-gravity environment. The current TRL of CORE is 4 (with some components at TRL 7). The operational capabilities of some of the internal components of CORE have previously been demonstrated in the operational environment of space.

Future Customers


Flight Experiment Objectives

The Collection of Regoltih Experiment (CORE) builds upon previously flown dusty regolith impact experiments (COLLIDE, Colwell and Taylor 1999; COLLIDE-2, Colwell 2003) that have been modified with a collector mechanism in order to acquire samples of loose regolith. The experiment consists of a sample of simulated planetary regolith and a sample retrieval mechanism that penetrates the regolith and scoops out a sample of about 10 grams during microgravity conditions. The regolith reservoir has a mechanical door in place to prevent particles from escaping due to accelerations experienced during launch and prior to free-fall. When activated the tray cover slides open exposing the regolith. Next, a launch mechanism forces a hollow tube to impact the regolith-filled tray. An inverted hollow hemispherical scoop inside the tube is then rotated 180° that results in sealing off the bottom of the tube so that the regolith sample is contained within the tube.

Technology Details

  • Selection Date
    AFO3 (Mar 2012)
  • Program Status
  • Current TRL (?)
    TRL 4
    Successful FOP Flights
  • 1 sRLV

Development Team

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