Four years After launching from EarthNASA’s Osiris-Rex on Tuesday made a historic and brief landing on the dangerously asteroid Bennu, about 200 million miles away.
The spacecraft traveled through the orbit with the aim of collecting a sample from the asteroid’s surface and returning it to Earth for study.
We did not know until Wednesday whether Osiris-Rex had succeeded in capturing the space science souvenir, but on Tuesday NASA TV reported a robotic sample arm of the spacecraft, Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSUM), Touched Bennu for about 15 seconds. In short contact, this is the equivalent of a cosmic pick pocketing feat.
Due to an 18-minute communication delay related to Earth mission control, the largely autonomous spacecraft fired a gas canister through Tagsam, which must have blocked Benu’s surface. .
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The team’s goal is to collect 60 grams of dust, dirt and stones from Bennu’s surface. To determine if that goal has been achieved, in the coming hours Osiris-Rex will jump to a safe distance and then take a photo of the collector head to the position of the hand and calculate how much mass is inside.
There is no guarantee that Osiris-Rex has collected a major sample. As the spacecraft approached and orbited Bennu for two years, it became clear that this small world was different from what scientists had hoped for. The team had hoped to find several sandy surfaces suitable for sampling, but Benoit was a debris pile, rough terrain with rocks.
The Osiris-Rex is designed to be flat and even touching the surface, but Ben is too rocky and has not found a suitable place for the team. Fortunately, the Osiris-Rex seems to outperform its design in terms of precision navigation. This gave the team the confidence to test the sample plot on a site called Nightingale, which is as large as a few parking spaces.
When it comes to landscape, there are a number of things that can go wrong if Osiris-Rex clips a rock or touches an uneven surface at a strange angle. If so, we’ll find out on Wednesday and get ready for a second try on one of the Osiris-Rex backup sites. The spacecraft is equipped with three bottles of nitrogen gas, so the team must receive at least two more shots on a sample.
If Osiris-Rex wins, it will join Hayabusa in Japan Hayabusa-2 missions On the anniversary of the asteroid expedition. Hayabusa returned a small material sample from the asteroid Itokawa, in an attempt to return a key sample of the Hayabusa 2 space rock, Rugu.
If the mission collects a sample, it will embark on a long journey to Earth, with a planned landing in the Utah desert in September 2023.
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