At the moment, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx group is readying to carry out an early stow of a pattern from asteroid Bennu, a course of initially scheduled for November 2.
“The abundance of fabric we collected from Bennu made it attainable to expedite our choice to stow,” OSIRIS-REx mission lead and College of Arizona planetary scientist Dante Lauretta mentioned in a NASA press launch on Monday. “The group is now working across the clock to speed up the stowage timeline, in order that we will defend as a lot of this materials as attainable for return to Earth.”
On Tuesday, Oct. 20, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft prolonged its 11-foot arm and touched Bennu, an asteroid concerning the dimension of the Empire State Constructing. From it, OSIRIS-REx autonomously collected a pattern of rocks, mud, and particles.
Although assortment didn’t require human oversight and enter, stowing the pattern is completed in phases and would require support from the group again on Earth. Scientists will ship instructions to the spacecraft to start the method, and with every step of stowing, OSIRIS-REx will ship the group knowledge and pictures, ready for a command to proceed.
Why stow early?
“We spent years making ready for this, analyzing each state of affairs,” Coralie Adams, the OSIRIS-REx TAG navigation supervisor, instructed NOVA concerning the sampling mission.
However final week’s state of affairs could also be shocking even to the OSIRIS-REx group: The spacecraft might have collected an excessive amount of of asteroid Bennu, inflicting the spacecraft’s assortment container to jam. On Thursday, OSIRIS-REx scientists acquired pictures that confirmed among the pattern had leaked into outer house from the gathering head, which wasn’t in a position to totally shut.
“A considerable quantity of pattern is seen floating away,” Lauretta mentioned on Friday.
The OSIRIS-REx group aimed to gather a minimum of 60 grams (2.1 ounces) of rock, dust, and mud from Bennu, an asteroid about 200 million miles away from Earth. Regardless of the space, Bennu is taken into account a near-Earth object (NEO) with a 1 in 2,700 likelihood of putting our planet within the late 2100s. (Andrea Riley, NASA’s DART mission program government, says “there’s no concern to be fearful” provided that likelihood.) By accumulating the pattern and analyzing it again on Earth, scientists hope to higher perceive the risk different NEOs might pose—and whether or not asteroids can reveal the historical past of planetary formation in our photo voltaic system.
Accumulating a giant pattern from Bennu was key, Hal Levinson of the Southwest Analysis Institute in Boulder, Colo., mentioned in a NASA press convention on Monday, Oct. 19. “After I obtained into this a very long time in the past, we used to assume the planets fashioned the place we see them. What actually occurred is like somebody picked up the photo voltaic system and shook it actual onerous. To actually put the story collectively requires having a giant pattern” from Bennu and finally different asteroids in our photo voltaic system, he explains.
To gather a pattern from Bennu, a group at Lockheed Martin House in Littleton, Colo., spent years creating OSIRIS-REx’s arm and its asteroid sampling technique, collectively often known as the Contact-and-Go Pattern Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM). Moderately than having your entire spacecraft contact down on Bennu, whose radius is a mere 861 ft, the group employed TAGSAM to achieve out, contact, and finally accumulate materials from the asteroid’s Nightingale Crater.
“The final 10 minutes, because the spacecraft was descending in direction of the floor of Bennu, was unreal,” Lauretta mentioned. “It was this slow-motion thrill experience,” Beau Bierhaus, an OSIRIS-REx TAGSAM scientist added.
At TAGSAM’s finish is a foot-wide assortment head like an “air filter,” Lauretta explains. This blew high-pressure nitrogen gasoline because it settled down on Bennu on Tuesday, disturbing the gathering web site and sucking up as a lot rock, dust, and mud because it probably might in simply 6 seconds on the floor.
The cameras reveal that OSIRIS-REx is carrying as much as 2 kilograms (2.2 kilos) of pattern, which is at its higher restrict. “About 400 grams appears seen from the cameras. The gathering lid has failed to shut correctly and stays wedged open by items which might be as much as three centimeters in dimension, making a centimeter-wide hole for materials to flee,” Neel V. Patel writes for MIT Know-how Evaluation. “It appears when OSIRIS-REx touched down on Bennu’s floor, the gathering head went 24 to 48 centimeters deep, which might clarify the way it recovered a lot materials.”
A lot of the escaped materials—as a lot as 10 grams, Lauretta believes—obtained out due to actions of OSIRIS-REx’s arm on Thursday. Luckily, the arm is now in a locked place, which ought to eradicate further losses. Given the scale of the pattern, even with a few of it having drifted into house, the group won’t pursue a second sampling try. Nor will it proceed with its Pattern Mass Measurement exercise, during which the spacecraft was going to pirouette in numerous spin maneuvers, permitting scientists to estimate the mass of the pattern. Realizing that such motion might lead to extra pattern loss, the group determined to cancel the process.
OSIRIS-REx has been orbiting Bennu since December 2018. In March, the spacecraft will depart and make its means again to Earth. Greater than two years later, because it passes over the Utah desert, OSIRIS-REx will drop off a small capsule containing its bounty of rocks and dust, which is able to parachute to a touchdown—and a group of keen scientists—on Sept. 24, 2023.