NASA’s probe leaks precious asteroid samples into space

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NASA’s probe leaks precious asteroid samples into space

This series of three photos, taken on October 22, shows debris leaking from the sample head.
GIF: NASA

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft appears to be leaking small bits of Bennu, after a successful attempt to collect samples from the asteroid’s surface. Engineers blame the jammed cap for what NASA describes as a minor problem.

Update: NASA has it I decided To stash sample material collected on October 27, instead of the deadline day of November 2. Early stocking is done to “protect and return as much of the sample as possible”.

The O-REx, as NASA team members love to call it Contact message With the Bennu surface on Tuesday, October 20, it is the space agency’s first attempt to collect surface materials from an asteroid. dramatic Pictures She was brought back to Earth hinting at success with NASA making sure Last Friday, the probe collected “more than enough material”, surpassing the team’s minimum target of at least 2 ounces (60 grams) of surface material.

In fact, it was a picture-perfect moment, as the head of the TAGSAM was seen flush with the surface as it was sinking slightly into a fine regolith. The timing was perfect, as an explosion of nitrogen raised the surface material, enveloping the sample head in a cloud of debris.

However, two days later, NASA noticed bits of debris seeping out of the sample collection head. The team attributes this to a Mylar cap that will not close, as it is opened by larger rocks.

“We are working to keep up with our success here, and my job is to safely return the largest sample of Bennu possible,” OSIRIS-REx principal investigator, Dante Loretta, explained in a statement to NASA. “The loss of mass is worrying me, so I strongly encourage the team to stock up on this precious sample as quickly as possible.”

Not all is lost, as the team simply needs to store the collected debris in the spacecraft’s return sample capsule before much of it spills out. Meanwhile, the team, led by researchers from the University of Arizona, does not want the O-REx to make any unnecessary movements, which is why they canceled the mass measurement activity in the sample last Saturday and also the throttle burn that was supposed on Friday, in order to reduce the vehicle’s acceleration. .

Describing this as a “curve ball,” Thomas Zurbuchen, assistant director of science at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said in a statement, “We may have to move more quickly to store the sample,” but “that’s not a bad problem.” He is “excited to see what appears to be an abundant specimen that will inspire science for decades after this historic moment.”

The team is finalizing a storage plan, including a timeline of when this will happen. An update is expected very soon. We also have to find out if the team wants OSIRIS-REx to make another sample collection attempt, which was not necessary before, but now, with the leaked merchandise, who knows. Assuming all is well and that the material can be stored in the return sample capsule, the Benno spacecraft will depart in March 2021, when Earth and the asteroid are in a favorable position.

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