A meteorite that travelled for billions of years before landing on Earth may return to space next year. A piece of the Campo del Cielo meteorite that crashed into our planet over 4000 years ago was resurrected from its resting ground when artist Katie Paterson decided to turn it into an art project.
A cast was made of the hunk of space-metal before it was melted in a furnace at 1700°C and remade into an exact copy of the original.
Katie wants to send it back to where it came from – deep space – with the help of ATV Georges Lemaitre. ESA may be able to include it as non-operational cargo on ATV-5, headed to the International Space Station.
After its billion-kilometre journey through outer space, the flight with Katie from Berlin’s airport to Amsterdam’s Schiphol in the Netherlands must have seemed insignificant. But its Dutch destination will determine its future voyage: ESA’s largest site and technical heart, ESTEC.
ESTEC engineers – experienced at testing satellites for space-worthiness and astronaut tools for safety – will inspect the meteorite to determine if any further testing is required before being allowed on the International Space Station.
Based on the chemical composition, ESTEC experts agreed that it would not be necessary to test the object for off-gassing, but the rust on the surface of the meteorite and a sharp edge are cause for concern. The rust could clog filters and become a health hazard, and the sharp edge could cut astronauts.
Two solutions were suggested by Kirsten MacDonell, ATV cargo manager, and Marika Orlandi, Materials and Processes expert, on the Payload Safety Review Panel: keep the object in a zip-tight bag at all times, or coat the meteorite in a common non-toxic silicon-based clear resin. The coating will keep the rust sealed inside to stop it escaping into the Space Station’s atmosphere and might also dull the rock’s sharp edges.
The coating has been entrusted to the editors of this blog [Do ESA think this is this wise? – Ed]. Who would have thought we would be so deeply caught up in an interplanetary art project?
If all goes as Katie hopes, the coated meteorite will be approved for flight and continue its galactic voyage to Turin, Italy, for packaging and shipping to French Guiana ready for ATV-5 launch in 2014.
From there our reconstituted heavenly visitor will ‘return to whence it came from’ on a visit to humankind’s only outpost in space.
We will keep you posted on how this interesting voyage proceeds.