NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has successfully saved a small cache of rocks that it grabbed from the floor of an asteroid named Bennu final week, sealing the pebbles contained in the automobile’s belly. The asteroid particles will now stay contained in the spacecraft over the subsequent three years, as OSIRIS-REx makes its manner again to Earth.
OSIRIS-REx grabbed the sample on October twentieth of final week, greater than 4 years after launching from Earth on its mission to the touch an asteroid. Using a skinny robotic arm, the automobile calmly tapped the asteroid Bennu, stirring up rocks on the floor and pushing some of the pebbles up into the spacecraft.
While the maneuver labored as deliberate, OSIRIS-REx was a bit of too good at this sample seize. The automobile wound up accumulating a considerable chunk of asteroid rocks, some of which had been pretty giant in measurement. These beefier pebbles then jammed a flap on the finish of the arm that was supposed to maintain the fabric enclosed inside. With the flap caught open, some of the asteroid particles began escaping out into area. Images of the sample collector confirmed tiny particles dancing and swirling as they headed out into the void.
That discovery fully upended the mission group’s plans, as they raced to retailer the sample earlier than extra rocks floated out into area. Originally, the group had hoped to make use of this week to spin up the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, measuring the automobile’s momentum to seek out out simply how a lot sample it had collected. But the engineers opted to cancel that, because the twirling may trigger extra rocks to flee. Instead, they determined to chop straight to storing the sample inside the principle physique of the spacecraft.
The storage course of took a pair of days to finish, with the OSIRIS-REx group monitoring every maneuver the automobile made and analyzing photos taken by the spacecraft. Overall, it appears to have gone off simply fantastic, and the collector is now correctly secured inside of OSIRIS-REx. “We’re here to announce today that we’ve successfully completed that operation,” Rich Burns, the OSIRIS-REx undertaking supervisor at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, stated throughout a press convention.
Unfortunately, the group doesn’t know for positive precisely how a lot materials they saved since they needed to cancel the spin maneuver. But they’re very assured that they grabbed greater than what they hoped to seize. The OSIRIS-REx mission set a purpose of snagging at the very least 60 grams of asteroid materials from Bennu. Based on photos taken of the robotic arm and the collector, the group members are assured they’ve grabbed at the very least 400 grams of materials — if no more. The footage solely present about 17 p.c of what’s contained in the sample collector, in line with Dante Lauretta, the principal investigator of the OSIRIS-REx mission on the University of Arizona. They estimate there are 400 grams in simply that 17 p.c of area alone, which implies it’s potential the spacecraft has greater than a kilogram in its belly proper now.
“So even though we have lost sample as a result of the mylar flap being wedged open, we are confident, I am confident, and this team is confident that we still have hundreds of grams of sample that we plan to bring back to the Earth,” Lauretta stated.
Ultimately, we received’t know for positive till OSIRIS-REx comes again to Earth. The spacecraft is slated to depart the neighborhood of Bennu in March and return to our planet in September 2023. Then, the spacecraft will jettison the sample and ship it on track to Earth. A parachute will gradual it down, finally permitting the sample to land in the Utah desert. Then the enjoyable will start, as scientists take the sample again into the lab to be taught extra about what actually makes up the asteroid Bennu.