BBC Home
Explore the BBC
BBC News
Launch consoleBBC NEWS CHANNEL
Last Updated: Sunday, 17 October, 2004, 08:21 GMT 09:21 UK
Switches blamed for Genesis crash
Genesis sample-return capsule (Nasa/JPL)
The Genesis capsule crash-landed in Utah
Faulty switches have been identified as the most likely cause of the Genesis sample-return capsule's crash landing in Utah, US, last month.

The devices were supposed to sense the braking caused by the probe's entry into the Earth's atmosphere and start a sequence that would deploy parachutes.

Nasa says "a design error that involves the orientation" of the switches meant the sequence failed.

The capsule was returning samples of charged atoms blown off the Sun.

These were caught on five collecting plates hung outside the US space agency's Genesis probe for more than 800 days in a region of space about 1.5 million km from Earth.

On the probe's return to its home planet, the plates were despatched to the surface in a capsule that was meant to be caught in mid-air by a helicopter.

But neither the capsule's drogue nor its main parachute opened and the 205kg container slammed into the desert floor at 310km/h, buckling, cracking and, in some places, shattering the collection panels inside.

Nevertheless, painstaking work in a cleanroom has rescued sufficient numbers of the solar atoms that scientists feel confident they can complete the Genesis mission - to understand the original chemical composition of the Solar System.

"This single cause has not yet been fully confirmed, nor has it been determined whether it is the only problem within the Genesis system," Michael Ryschkewitsch, chairman of the Mishap Investigation Board looking into the capsule crash, said of the switch error.

The solar samples have been sent to the Johnson Space Center in Houston for evaluation and cleaning.

The recovered remains of the sample-return capsule are undergoing engineering inspections and tests at the Waterton, Colorado, facility of Lockheed Martin Astronautics, which built the craft.

Its damaged lithium sulphur dioxide battery is being evaluated at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

"Both Lockheed Martin and JPL have been providing every possible support to our investigation," Ryschkewitsch said.

The MIB expected to complete its work by late November, Nasa said.

The capsule crossed the US, crashing just before 1700BST (BBC)

All times in BST

The BBC's Fergus Walsh
"Shock and disbelief among the scores of waiting scientists"

Genesis data 'retrieved intact'
10 Sep 04  |  Science/Nature
Scientists 'hopeful' for Genesis
09 Sep 04  |  Science/Nature
Solar capsule crashes into Earth
08 Sep 04  |  Science/Nature
Scientists track incoming probe
01 Sep 04  |  Science/Nature
Movie pilots ready for capsule catch
06 May 04  |  Science/Nature
Q&A: Genesis sample return
06 May 04  |  Science/Nature
Good beginning for Genesis
19 Nov 01  |  Sci/Tech


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | World | UK | England | Northern Ireland | Scotland | Wales | Politics
Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health | Education
Have Your Say | Magazine | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific