NASA's OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft Goes for Early Stow of Asteroid Sample

Katie Ramirez
October 28, 2020

From it, OSIRIS-REx autonomously collected a sample of rocks, dust, and debris.

A cloud of asteroid particles could be seen swirling around the spacecraft as it backed away from Bennu. The team will send the preliminary commands to the spacecraft to start the stow sequence and, once OSIRIS-REx completes each step in sequence, the spacecraft sends telemetry and images back to the team on Earth and waits for the team's confirmation to proceed with the next step.

The probe's mission is to collect fragments that scientists hope will help uncover the origins of our solar system, but which hit a hook after ingesting too large a sample.

The probe picked up such as substantial sample that a rock is wedged against the container door, which means they are falling out back into space.

In reviewing these images, the OSIRIS-REx team noticed both that the head appeared to be full of asteroid particles, and that some of these particles appeared to be escaping slowly from the sample collector, called the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) head.

"I'm proud of the OSIRIS-REx team's wonderful work and success to this point", said NASA's Associate Administrator for Science Thomas Zurbuchen.

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After performing a historic feat last week (21), when collecting samples of rocks from the surface of an asteroid for the first time, NASA ended up suffering an unexpected setback: the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft collected so much material from Bennu, that it ended up clogging and keeping the "mouth" open, spilling fragments through space.

"We are working to keep up with our own success here, and my job is to safely return as large a sample of Bennu as possible", said Lauretta. "It was this slow-motion thrill ride", Beau Bierhaus, an OSIRIS-REx TAGSAM scientist added. Throughout the process, the mission team will continually assess the TAGSAM's wrist alignment to ensure the collector head is properly placed in the SRC. "About 400 grams seems visible from the cameras". Michael Daly, lead scientist for the instrument that mapped the asteroid's surface, answered some questions from two special guests.

Is Osiris-Rex, launched more than four years ago, at risk of losing its treasure?

Most of the escaped material-as much as 10 grams, Lauretta believes-got out because of movements of OSIRIS-REx's arm on Thursday. Given the size of the sample, even with some of it having drifted into space, the team will not pursue a second sampling attempt.

As a result, a plan to carry out a mass measurement on Saturday has been cancelled since it could risk scattering further samples. In March, the spacecraft will leave and make its way back to Earth.

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