The University of Arizona

Macroscopic subdivision of silica aerogel collectors for sample return missions

H. A. Ishii, J. P. Bradley


Silica aerogel collector tiles have been employed for the collection of particles in low Earth orbit and, more recently, for the capture of cometary particles by NASA's Stardust mission. Reliable, reproducible methods for cutting these and future collector tiles from sample return missions are necessary to maximize the science output from the extremely valuable embedded particles. We present a means of macroscopic subdivision of collector tiles by generating large-scale cuts over several centimeters in silica aerogel with almost no material loss. The cut surfaces are smooth and optically clear allowing visual location of particles for analysis and extraction. This capability is complementary to the smaller-scale cutting capabilities previously described (Westphal 2004; Ishii 2005a, 2005b) for removing individual impacts and particulate debris in tiny aerogel extractions. Macroscopic cuts enable division and storage or distribution of portions of aerogel tiles for immediate analysis of samples by certain techniques in situ or further extraction of samples suited for other methods of analysis. The capability has been implemented in the Stardust Laboratory at NASA's Johnson Space Center as one of a suite of aerogel cutting methods to be used in Stardust sample curation.


trace elements;chemical composition of comets;cometary dust;Stardust mission

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