Japanese Swordsmiths Take On Asteroids

Japanese swordsmiths have been given an unusual challenge - fashion impactors of tamahagane, the traditional metal made from iron sand and charcoal that is used in Japanese swords, for use in space probes.

...the team – including Genrokuro Matsunaga, a 70-year-old swordsmith and Takeo Watanabe at Kanagawa Institute of Technology – explain how they have made several rock corers with various metallic compositions.

“To achieve the sharpness and plasticity demand of the corer tip, we borrowed the techniques of traditional Japanese sword-smithing in fabricating the corer samples,” the authors write.

The resulting corers are small, cylindrical devices with a bladed edge angled inwards. Instead of swiping a katana sword at the asteroid – which would be cool but impractical – the idea is to launch the tamahagane-tipped corer at the space rock at great speed. In theory, it will dig into the asteroid and allow for a sample to be scooped up. A tether back to the mothership spacecraft could then reel the device and asteroid fragments in.

In his 1958 classic The Mechanical Monarch, science fiction writer E.C. Tubb describes a similar method of determining the composition of an asteroid, combining the steps.

Fire streaked in a thin line from the muzzle of a cannon-like tube mounted beneath the viewing instruments and a tiny, rocket-powered projectile, drove towards the mysterious bulk. It hit, exploding into a cloud of incandescent vapour, and Wendis stared thoughtfully at the brilliant lines on the spectroscope screen.

"... the spectro shows traces of iron, some copper, a little tungsten and a lot of beryllium. Looks unnatural somehow, too much like an alloy."
(Read more about impactor determines composition)

Via BBC and Penetration Dynamics of an Asteroid Sampling System Inspired by Japanese Sword Technology.

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