On the night of October 24, NASA held an extraordinary press conference to provide an update on the OSIRIS-REx interplanetary station and the first soil sampling operation from the near-Earth asteroid Bennu. After careful consideration of the SamCam images of the TAGSAM sampler head, the mission team concluded that the operation was more than successful – the collected material turned out to be even more than it was planned to collect. This is reported on the NASA websites and the OSIRIS-REx mission.
Recall that the goal was to collect at least 60 grams of the substance. After comparing the images of the TAGSAM sampler head before and after the sampling operation, the mission team found that it was filled to capacity with asteroid particles. They also noticed that some of these particles slowly spill out. The researchers speculate that the particles leave the sample head through small slots where larger rocks have jammed the valve cover.
On October 24, the station was supposed to make a rotation around its own axis to determine the mass of the substance collected from Bennu. But the images showed that any movement of the spacecraft and the TAGSAM instrument could result in the loss of the sample. In this regard, the team decided to abandon the maneuver and not make sudden movements. The device will continue to move away from the asteroid at the same speed of 40 centimeters per second.
The mission has canceled tomorrow’s Sample Mass Measurement to protect the sample and is now on course to stow the sample as soon as possible. The spacecraft remains in good health and the mission is confident that the spacecraft has collected more than 60 grams of material.
The mission has canceled tomorrow’s Sample Mass Measurement to protect the sample and is now on course to stow the sample as soon as possible. The spacecraft remains in good health and the mission is confident that the spacecraft has collected more than 60 grams of material. pic.twitter.com/hABL4n3JYN
— NASA's OSIRIS-REx (@OSIRISREx) October 23, 2020
The mission team is now fully focused on storing and moving the collected samples into the return capsule. According to the plan, OSIRIS-REx will have to leave orbit around Bennu in mid-2021 and deliver a capsule with soil to Earth on September 24, 2023. Only then will the exact mass of the collected matter be known.
It is reported that the sampling operation was carried out under optimal conditions – the head of the TAGSAM sampler was flush with the surface of the Bennu asteroid at the time of contact and a nitrogen stream was blown over the working area to collect dust and rock fragments from the surface. Moreover, the instrument even penetrated several centimeters deep into the surface of the asteroid. All data to date indicate that the collected mass is well above the target 60 grams. The OSIRIS-REx station itself is in good condition, and the mission team will soon approve a schedule and procedure for placing the collected samples into the capsule.
- The robotic interplanetary station OSIRIS-REx was launched in September 2016 and is designed to study the near-Earth asteroid (101955) Bennu. It is the third spacecraft designed to obtain soil samples from asteroids and their subsequent delivery to Earth.
- On December 3, 2018, the station arrived at the asteroid and entered a stable orbit around it. The two-year scientific program for remote sensing of the asteroid has led to many important discoveries, including the detection of signs of water.
- On October 20, 2020, OSIRIS-REx was able to successfully complete the first sampling attempt from Bennu (this was confirmed by telemetry data transmitted to Earth). To do this, the station has TAGSAM (Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism), a 3.35-meter robotic arm for taking soil samples from an asteroid. During contact with the surface of the asteroid in the “Nightingale” area, the station blasted the working area with a stream of nitrogen to capture the dust and rock fragments that had risen from the surface, after which it flew away from the asteroid to a safe distance.
- (101955) Bennu is a 500-meter diamond-shaped near-Earth asteroid from the Apollo group, which was discovered in 2013 and named after a bird from ancient Egyptian mythology. It has an average density of about 1190 kg / m3, belongs to the carbon asteroids of spectral class B.
- These asteroids contain the original building material from which the solar system was formed. Scientists expect this mission to shed light on the role of asteroids in the origins of life on Earth. According to one of the versions, life on the young Earth originated because asteroids brought organic compounds and water onto it.
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