NASA Spacecraft To Stow Asteroid Sample To Stop Leakage

NASA to Stow Bennu Asteroid Sample to Stop Leakage into Space

NASA said Friday that its robotic spacecraft Osiris-Rex had succeeded in collecting a large sample of particles from the Bennu asteroid this week - but so much that it was leaking.

The team believes that the asteroid sample collection event, called "Touch-And-Go" (TAG), gathered enough of a sample.

The spacecraft Osiris-Rex - short for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer - last Tuesday conducted NASA's first sample collection from an asteroid as part of a seven-year voyage, according to Deutsche press agency (dpa).

The team will now focus on stowing the sample in the Sample Return Capsule (SRC), where any loose material will be kept safe during the spacecraft's journey back to Earth. "The team is now working around the clock to accelerate the stowage timeline, so that we can protect as much of this material as possible for return to Earth".

The science team wants to collect at least 60 grams of regolith; the sample container can hold as much as 2 kg.

Calling it a "curveball", Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA's headquarters in Washington, said in a statement, "we may have to move more quickly to stow the sample", but "it's not a bad problem to have".


But last week's scenario may be surprising even to the OSIRIS-REx team: The spacecraft may have collected too much of asteroid Bennu, causing the spacecraft's collection container to jam.

The probe is so far away that it takes 18.5 minutes for its transmissions to reach Earth, and any signal from the control room requires the same amount of time to reach Osiris-Rex. 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.

This storage process takes several days at the team's estimates, but it allows samples to be safely stored, sealed and returned to Earth.

As a result, a plan to carry out a mass measurement on Saturday has been cancelled since it could risk scattering further samples. This spin would have allowed the team to determine the change in the spacecraft's "angular moment of inertia", and how it changes with the sample aboard.

"The loss of mass is of concern to me, so I'm strongly encouraging the team to stow this precious sample as quickly as possible". They show also that some of these particles are slowly escaping the sampler head. More than two years later, as it passes over the Utah desert, OSIRIS-REx will drop off a small capsule containing its bounty of rocks and dirt, which will parachute to a landing-and a team of eager scientists-on September 24, 2023. "Large particles left the flap open".

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