NASA’s Osiris probe is leaking asteroid samples into space


This series of three images acquired on October 22 shows debris exiting the head of the sample collection system.
Gif: NASA.

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft appears to be missing small fragments of Bennu after a successful attempt to collect samples from the asteroid’s surface. Engineers blame a stuck lid, something NASA consider a minor problem.

Until now and for this reason, NASA He has decided save the sample material collected on October 27, rather than the date scheduled for November 2. Advance storage is done to “protect and return as much sample as possible”.

O-REx, as NASA team members like to call it, made a brief Contact with the surface of Bennu on Tuesday, October 20, marking the space agency’s first attempt to collect surface material from an asteroid. Stunning images envoy to Earth hinted at success and the NASA confirmed last Friday the spacecraft collected “more than enough material,” surpassing the team’s minimum target of at least 60 grams of surface material.

In fact, the image is a near-perfect portrait, with the probe’s TAGSAM (Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism) head appearing flush with the surface as it dips slightly into the smooth surface. regulated. The timing was perfect, as a nitrogen explosion lifted the material off the surface and enveloped the sample’s head in a cloud of debris.

However, a couple of days later NASA noticed debris fragments leaking from the sample collection head. The team attributes this event to an instrument lid not closing completely, as it is opened by larger rocks.

“We are working to keep up with our success here on Earth, and my job is to safely return as large a sample of Bennu as possible,” OSIRIS-REx Principal Investigator Dante Lauretta explained in a statement. from NASA. “The loss of mass worries me, so I highly recommend that the team safeguard this precious champion as quickly as possible.”

All is not lost, as the team simply needs to salvage the debris collected in the spacecraft’s sample return capsule before it spills too far. Meanwhile, the team, led by researchers from the University of Arizona, does not want O-REx to make unnecessary movements, which is why they canceled the “Sample Mass Measurement” activity that was about to be done. develop last Saturday, October 24, and also a braking action that should have taken place next Friday, October 30, to minimize the acceleration of the ship.

Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA’s Washington, US headquarters, said in a statement that “we may have to move faster to archive the sample,” but “it’s not a serious problem.” Furthermore, he is “thrilled to see what appears to be an abundant demonstration that will inspire science for decades beyond this historic moment.”

The team is finalizing an archiving plan. We should also find out soon if the team wants OSIRIS-REx to make another sample collection attempt, which previously didn’t seem necessary, but now, with the leaking cargo, who knows. Assuming all is well and the material can be stored in the Sample Return Capsule, the spacecraft will depart Bennu in March 2021, when Earth and the asteroid align favorably.


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