A software tool is used to demonstrate the feasibility of Touch and Go (TAG) sampling for Asteroid Sample Return missions. TAG is a concept whereby a spacecraft is in contact with the surface of a small body, such as a comet or asteroid, for a few seconds or less before ascending to a safe location away from the small body. Previous work at JPL developed the G-TAG simulation tool, which provides a software environment for fast, multi-body simulations of the TAG event. G-TAG is described in “Multibody Simulation Software Testbed for Small-Body Exploration and Sampling,” (NPO-47196) NASA Tech Briefs, Vol. 35, No. 11 (November 2011), p.54. This current innovation adapts this tool to a mission that intends to return a sample from the surface of an asteroid.
In order to demonstrate the feasibility of the TAG concept, the new software tool was used to generate extensive simulations that demonstrate the designed spacecraft meets key requirements. These requirements state that contact force and duration must be sufficient to ensure that enough material from the surface is collected in the brushwheel sampler (BWS), and that the spacecraft must survive the contact and must be able to recover and ascend to a safe position, and maintain velocity and orientation after the contact.
This work was done by Lars James C. Blackmore, Behcet Acikmese, and Milan Mandic of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.