NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has efficiently 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 car’s stomach. The asteroid particles will now stay contained in the spacecraft over the following three years, as OSIRIS-REx makes its method again to Earth.
OSIRIS-REx grabbed the pattern on October 20th of final week, greater than 4 years after launching from Earth on its mission to the touch an asteroid. Utilizing a skinny robotic arm, the car evenly tapped the asteroid Bennu, stirring up rocks on the floor and pushing among the pebbles up into the spacecraft.
Whereas the maneuver labored as deliberate, OSIRIS-REx was a bit of too good at this pattern seize. The car wound up accumulating a considerable chunk of asteroid rocks, a few of which have 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, among the asteroid particles began escaping out into house. Photographs of the pattern collector confirmed tiny particles dancing and swirling as they headed out into the void.
That discovery utterly upended the mission crew’s plans, as they raced to retailer the pattern earlier than extra rocks floated out into house. Initially, the crew had hoped to make use of this week to spin up the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, measuring the car’s momentum to seek out out simply how a lot pattern it had collected. However the engineers opted to cancel that, because the twirling might trigger extra rocks to flee. As a substitute, they determined to chop straight to storing the pattern inside the primary physique of the spacecraft.
The storage course of took a few days to finish, with the OSIRIS-REx crew monitoring every maneuver the car made and analyzing photos taken by the spacecraft. Total, it appears to have gone off simply high-quality, and the collector is now correctly secured within OSIRIS-REx. “We’re right here to announce in the present day that we’ve efficiently accomplished that operation,” Wealthy Burns, the OSIRIS-REx undertaking supervisor at NASA’s Goddard Area Flight Middle, mentioned throughout a press convention.
Sadly, the crew doesn’t know for certain precisely how a lot materials they saved since they needed to cancel the spin maneuver. However they’re very assured that they grabbed greater than what they hoped to seize. The OSIRIS-REx mission set a aim of snagging not less than 60 grams of asteroid materials from Bennu. Based mostly on photos taken of the robotic arm and the collector, the crew members are assured they’ve grabbed not less than 400 grams of fabric — if no more. The photographs solely present about 17 p.c of what’s contained in the pattern collector, in keeping with Dante Lauretta, the principal investigator of the OSIRIS-REx mission on the College of Arizona. They estimate there are 400 grams in simply that 17 p.c of house alone, which suggests it’s attainable the spacecraft has greater than a kilogram in its stomach proper now.
“So though we have now misplaced pattern on account of the mylar flap being wedged open, we’re assured, I’m assured, and this crew is assured that we nonetheless have a whole lot of grams of pattern that we plan to carry again to the Earth,” Lauretta mentioned.
Finally, we gained’t know for certain 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 pattern and ship it on target to Earth. A parachute will sluggish it down, finally permitting the pattern to land within the Utah desert. Then the enjoyable will start, as scientists take the pattern again into the lab to study extra about what actually makes up the asteroid Bennu.