NASA Successfully Collected Samples from Asteroid Bennu | IE

Katie Ramirez
November 22, 2020

As a result, Osiris-Rex has to reach out with its 3.4-metre robot arm while dodging boulders the size of buildings.

Four hours later, at an altitude of around 410 feet (125 meters), the spacecraft executed the first of two maneuvers that allowed it to precisely target the sample collection site, known as Nightingale.

It's "almost a Rosetta stone, something that's out there and tells the history of our entire Earth, of the solar system during the last billions of years", said NASA's chief scientist, Thomas Zurbuchen.

"I can't believe we actually pulled this off", said the University of Arizona's Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for the mission. The successful contact, the TAGSAM gas firing, and back-away from Bennu are major accomplishments for the team. In the event that OSIRIS-REx isn't able to gather a large sample with its main collector after up to three attempts, the collector also features small metal pads that look like Velcro. The maneuver "was historic", said Lori Glaze, Planetary Science Division director at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

NASA hopes the $1 billion mission will reveal secrets about the origins of our solar system.

After two years of waiting for the ideal opportunity, NASA on Tuesday will try to collect a sample from an asteroid for the first time.

The planets and spacecraft are now about 207 million miles from Earth, which will cause a communication delay of 18.5 minutes.

The spacecraft carried out TAG autonomously, with pre-programmed instructions from engineers on Earth.

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Seconds later, Esthell Church, the Lockheed mission operator, confirmed that the spacecraft had moved away from the cliff after contact, saying, "Sample collection is complete, back burning is activated". As part of the preparations, NASA is building a separate lab for the Hayabusa2 samples next to the OSIRIS-REx rooms so they can share commonly needed infrastructure, such as air handling systems and nitrogen storage environments.

Another method of finding out how much sample was collected will involve extending the collector out to the side of the spacecraft and slowly spinning the spacecraft about an axis perpendicular to the arm.

Upon arrival at the space center, the ARES team led by Kevin Righter, curator of the Antarctic meteorite collection at Johnson, will conduct basic initial examinations of the material to characterize, digitally catalog and divide the samples for other researchers to utilize.

Given the high cost of transporting material into space, if astronauts can extract water from an asteroid for life support and fuel, the cosmic beyond is closer than ever to being human-accessible.

Collecting those samples involved a never-before-tried technique dubbed the touch-and-go (TAG).

Over the next couple of days, scientists will capture images of the asteroid material and use the spacecraft to determine the amount of collected rubble with a spin maneuver to make sure they got enough samples.

This is similar to a person spinning with one arm extended while holding a string with a ball attached to the end. The person can sense the mass of the ball by the tension in the string.

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