In the latest Osiris REx Mission updates, the spacecraft ended up spilling back some its precious sample collections from Asteroid Bennu’s surface. Notably, the robotic OSIRIS-REx spacecraft made history last Tuesday by briefly touching down on the rocky surface of asteroid Bennu to collect rock and dust samples.
For the uninitiated, Bennu is a skyscraper-sized asteroid currently located around 200 million miles from Earth. In what has been referred to as a “Touch-and-Go” mission, NASA OSIRIS-REx spacecraft managed to tag asteroid Bennu and collect a sample from its boulder-strewn surface. The mission was recently carried out on Tuesday.
OSIRIS-Rex Mission Spillover Cause Concern among Celebrations
All the NASA scientists who are working on the mission were initially thrilled as it collected much more samples from the diamond-shaped asteroid Bennuthan they had expected. AP quoted Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principle investigator Dante Lauretta saying that the mission collected far more material than expected for the return to Earth – in the hundreds of grams.
However, their joy was short lived. The spacecraft was soon stuffed with so much rubble that its door jammed open causing the precious particles to spill back. It was supposed to collect at least 60 grams of rubble. But, images from the space revealed that it had caught more material than initially anticipated and was now spilling an excess of flaky asteroid rocks back into space.
Dante Lauretta from the University of Arizonaopined, “Quite honestly, we could not have performed a better collection experiment. But with the door lodged open by a rock and the concerning images of sample spillage, we’re almost the victim of our own success here.”
India Today further explained in its report that “the sample container on the end of the robot arm penetrated so deeply into the asteroid and with such force, that rocks got sucked in and became wedged around the rim of the lid.”
NASA Team estimates that the sampler pressed as much as 19 inches into the rough, crumbly, black terrain. The consequent spillage had the OSIRIS-REx mission team scrambling to stow the collection device to prevent further loss of the samples collected.
Additionally, Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for Science at NASA noted, “Time is of the essence. Mission teams will skip their chance to measure how much material they collected as originally planned and proceed to the stow phase, a fragile process of tucking the sample collection container in a safe position within the spacecraft without jostling out more valuable material.”
It essentially implies that the leading space agency would not know how much rubble sample from the asteroid’s surface has been successfully secured until the spacecraft’s return in 2023. Furthermore, latest updates also mean that NASA will not be making any more attempts of redoing at sample collection.
The team will now be trying to simply begin the spacecraft’s return to bring it back to Earth. The return process is likely to begin by next March and it is anticipated to reach Earth by 2023 at the earliest after seven years since the Osiris REx Mission began.
However, even with the spillage, the mission can be termed as a success as team estimates that it still has more than the minimum required sample size of 60 g.
The official NASA Osiris Rex Mission account tweeted, “The mission has canceled tomorrow’s Sample Mass Measurement to protect the sample and is now on course to stow the sample as soon as possible. The spacecraft remains in good health and the mission is confident that the spacecraft has collected more than 60 grams of material.”
For those who don’t know, OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is a themini van-sized spacecraft built by Lockheed Martin. It was launched in 2016 to grab and return the first US sample of pristine asteroid materials.OSIRIS-REx Mission is also NASA’s first asteroid sample-return mission.
Moreover, the Bennu asteroid was particularly chosen because of its carbon-rich material is believed to hold the preserved building blocks of our solar system. The consequent study of collected rubble from the asteroid’s surface can hopefully help scientists better understand how the planets were formed and how life originated on Earth.
As we talk about NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Mission, it is also worth noting that Japan is the only other country to have accomplished such a feat of collecting samples from an asteroid’s surface.