The mission team received images sent by the spacecraft last Thursday, which revealed that the sample collection head was filled with surface material – so much so that a flap opened up with rocks and allowed the particles to escape into space.
The team canceled the scheduled maneuvers for the spacecraft, which was used to calculate the mass of the sample they collected. But researchers are convinced that the spacecraft collected better than the mission requirement of 2 ounces or 60 grams.
Due to the success of the sample collection, the team worked over the weekend to expedite preparations for sample storage, which was originally scheduled for November 2nd.
“The abundance of material we have collected from Bennu has helped speed up our decision to stockpile,” said Dante Loretta, principal investigator at Osiris-Rex University of Arizona in Tucson. “The team is now working full time to expedite the Stow Wage timeline so we can save as much of this material as possible for returning to Earth.”
The collection head will be stored in the spacecraft’s sample return capsule to preserve objects collected by the spacecraft during last week’s short and historic approximately 6 – second touchdown.
This is NASA’s first mission to collect a sample from an asteroid, which will return to Earth in September 2023. .
The asteroid and spacecraft are currently 200 million miles from Earth. This creates an 18.5 minute communication delay between Osiris-Rex and its mission team on Earth.
Due to this delay last week, the spacecraft operated autonomously during the collection program. But storage is another story.
Be careful and manage
Each step of keeping the sample requires supervision and commands sent by the team. Basically, when the spacecraft completes each step, it sends back data and images to the team. Once the researchers receive them, they evaluate the progress of OSIRIS-REx and send another command.
This will ensure that the collection head is placed in the capsule with proper care.
According to the team’s estimate this storage process will take more than one day, but it will keep the sample safe and sealed so it can return to the ground.
To facilitate this process, team members will rely on a new imaging sequence to help monitor material leakage from the collection head. They can also be used to ensure that escaping particles do not interfere with storage.
The spacecraft will not go to Earth until March 2021, when the asteroid will be deployed to Earth for a more fuel-efficient travel home.
“I am proud of the Osiris-Rex team’s amazing work and success at this stage,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.
“The mission is well-equipped to return a historic and significant sample of an asteroid to Earth, and they are doing the right thing at every precise timetable to protect that precious commodity.”