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Last Updated: Friday, 10 September, 2004, 05:19 GMT 06:19 UK
Genesis 'faulty battery' probed
Genesis sample-return capsule (Nasa/JPL)
The Genesis capsule crash-landed in Utah
A faulty battery has emerged as one of the likeliest causes for the crash-landing of the Genesis sample capsule.

Scientists have been removing pieces of dirt and mud that lodged in the damaged canister after it smashed at high speed into the Utah desert on Wednesday.

They remain optimistic that something can be salvaged from the mission, aimed at capturing solar wind particles.

Engineers are looking into the theory that a battery overheating early in the mission may have led to the crash.

The battery was designed to detonate explosive charges that would release the craft's parachutes, helping to slow its descent to Earth.

It was then supposed to be caught in midair by a Hollywood helicopter stunt pilot.

Instead, the parachutes failed to open and the capsule struck the ground at the Air Force's Utah Test and Training Range, southwest of Salt Lake City, at 310km/h (193mph).

The 205kg (420lbs)capsule is now in a specially built clean-room at the nearby US Army Dugway Proving Ground.

'Mangled mess'

"We have a mangled mess of a spacecraft. The sample canister broke open," said Nasa project scientist David Lindstrom.

The clean-room at the US Army Dugway Proving Ground (Nasa/JPL)
The capsule was removed to a clean-room at the nearby army base
"We have been lucky in that it's only dirt - we did not have a problem with liquid water in there, so we're very hopeful of getting good science out of this."

Both the outer protective canister and the inner science canister were breached in the impact.

Scientists say some of the plates designed to collect solar wind particles appear to be more or less intact, although others have crumbled to dust.

"Overall, the science community is optimistic because the particles are implanted within the collectors," said Lindstrom.

Genesis lead scientist Don Burnett examines material from the impact site (Nasa/JPL)
Scientists are going through all the debris in a methodical manner
Ultimately the solar samples will be taken to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, for study and preservation.

The precise nature of these particles could tell scientists how the Sun and the planets grew out of a huge cloud of gas and dust 4.5 billion years ago.

The $260m Genesis mission was launched in August 2001. The main spacecraft travelled to a location 1.5 million km (1 million miles) from Earth where, for more than 800 days, it hung delicate collecting wafers in the stream of particles blowing off the surface of the Sun.

The collectors were then stored inside a sample-return capsule which was jettisoned into the Earth's atmosphere as the main Genesis spacecraft flew past the Earth.

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"

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  |  Science/Nature


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