NASA spacecraft safely seals up asteroid sample to return to Earth

The mission group obtained pictures despatched by the spacecraft on October 22 that exposed the sample assortment head was stuffed with floor materials — a lot so {that a} flap was wedged open by rocks, permitting particles to escape into house.

A digicam on the spacecraft helped the NASA mission group verify that the sample was safely stowed on Wednesday. This marks the tip of some of the difficult phases of the mission, in accordance to NASA.

“This achievement by OSIRIS-REx on behalf of NASA and the world has lifted our vision to the higher things we can achieve together, as teams and nations,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine mentioned in a press release.

“Together a team comprising industry, academia and international partners, and a talented and diverse team of NASA employees with all types of expertise, has put us on course to vastly increase our collection on Earth of samples from space. Samples like this are going to transform what we know about our universe and ourselves, which is at the base of all NASA’s endeavors.”

Before securely sealing the sample within the return capsule, the spacecraft had to lower a tube that helped carry nitrogen fuel to the floor of the asteroid. This fuel helped stir up materials on the asteroid’s floor so it might be collected. The spacecraft was additionally commanded by the mission group to separate the collector head from the robotic arm it was hooked up to for the Touch-and-Go, or TAG, assortment occasion.

The arm was additionally used to tug on the collector head and ensure it was securely latched in place.

The spacecraft closed the lid of the sample return capsule and fixed its inner latches late Wednesday.

The artwork of stowing an asteroid sample

Researchers are assured that the spacecraft collected effectively over the mission’s requirement of two ounces, or 60 grams. They consider the spacecraft was in a position to gather at the least 1 kilogram of fabric, if no more, and estimate that tens of grams had been misplaced earlier than the sample was stowed.

Due to the success of the sample assortment, the group labored over the weekend to expedite preparations for stowing the sample, which was initially scheduled for November 2. The stow course of took about 36 hours total.

The asteroid and the spacecraft are presently greater than 200 million miles from Earth. This creates a one-way, 18.5-minute communication delay between OSIRIS-REx and its mission group on Earth.

Each stage of stowing the sample required oversight and instructions despatched by the group. Basically, each time the spacecraft accomplished a step, it despatched again knowledge and pictures to the group. Once the researchers obtained them, they assessed OSIRIS-REx’s progress and despatched one other command. Because of this, the stowing course of spanned a number of days.

“Given the complexity of the process to place the sample collector head onto the capture ring, we expected that it would take a few attempts to get it in the perfect position,” mentioned Rich Burns, OSIRIS-REx mission supervisor at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, in a press release. “Fortunately, the head was captured on the first try, which allowed us to expeditiously execute the stow procedure.”

The sample return capsule will defend materials gathered by the spacecraft throughout its temporary and historic roughly six-second landing on Bennu final week.

This is NASA’s first mission to land on and gather a sample from an asteroid, and will probably be returned to Earth in September 2023.

The spacecraft will not depart for Earth till March 2021 when the asteroid is in alignment with Earth to present a extra fuel-efficient journey residence.

Returning a sample to Earth

When OSIRIS-REx passes by Earth in September 2023, it’ll drop the capsule containing the sample within the Utah desert. A group can be prepared to retrieve the sample from an plane hangar that can function a short lived clear room.

The sample will then be whisked away to labs which might be presently underneath development at Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The labs can be managed by NASA’s ARES, or Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science division. This division consists of the research of an array of supplies that originated in house, together with meteorites, moon rocks, photo voltaic wind particles and comet samples.

In order to correctly put together for shielding the sample returned from Bennu whereas additionally finding out it, ARES may also have new cleansing services, instruments and storage areas as well as to the brand new labs in growth. This will permit scientists to research Bennu’s floor materials with out damaging it.

The ARES group has been planning for this return for greater than 15 years.

New images show NASA spacecraft's historic landing and sample collection on asteroid

Kevin Righter, curator of the Antarctic meteorite assortment at Johnson Space Center, and OSIRIS-REx deputy curators and scientists Keiko Messenger, Nicole Lunning and Christopher Snead can be a number of the first to see and deal with the sample.

The scientists, together with different ARES employees, will characterize, put together and divide the sample so it may be studied by different scientists. It may also be digitally cataloged.

“I’m really excited to see the sample and interact with it,” Lunning mentioned in a press release. “Before it arrives, we’ll be preparing in many ways, such as holding sample return capsule retrieval and disassembly rehearsals to make sure the actual event goes as smoothly as possible and the sample is protected.”

The OSIRIS-REx science group will research the sample initially to be taught extra concerning the asteroid’s chemistry and minerals. These would be the foundation of the primary research launched concerning the sample from Bennu.

The group at NASA may also construct a separate lab to home the Ryugu samples collected by Hayabusa2, supplied by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency in change for a number of the Bennu samples.

And the Canadian Space Agency, which contributed an instrument to the OSIRIS-REx mission, may also obtain a number of the Bennu sample. About 75% of the sample can be sealed and reserved for future generations to research.

“I’m very thankful that our team worked so hard to get this sample stowed as quickly as they did,” mentioned Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator on the University of Arizona, Tucson, in a press release. “Now we can look forward to receiving the sample here on Earth and opening up that capsule.”

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