NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is a cosmic rock collector. Cheers erupted from mission management at 6:12 p.m. EDT on October 20 as scientists on Earth obtained phrase that the spacecraft had gently nudged a near-Earth asteroid referred to as Bennu, and grabbed a few of its rocks to return to Earth.
“The spacecraft did every little thing it was imagined to do,” mentioned mission principal investigator Dante Lauretta of the College of Arizona in Tucson on a NASA TV webcast. “I can’t consider we truly pulled this off.”
OSIRIS-REx arrived at Bennu in December 2018, and spent virtually two years making detailed maps of the 500-meter-wide asteroid’s floor options and composition (SN: 10/8/20). Observations from Earth steered Bennu ought to be clean and sandy, however when OSIRIS-REx arrived, it discovered a treacherous, rocky panorama.
The workforce chosen a comparatively clean patch in a crater named Nightingale. The spot was not with out hazards, although — the workforce was so frightened a couple of notably giant rock close by that they named it “Mount Doom” (SN: 12/12/19).
Signal Up For the Newest from Science Information
Headlines and summaries of the newest Science Information articles, delivered to your inbox
Fortunately, the spacecraft didn’t want to completely land within the crater to finish its mission. Because it hovered simply above the floor, OSIRIS-REx reached out a robotic arm with an instrument referred to as TAGSAM on the finish, for Contact-And-Go Pattern Acquisition Mechanism. The instrument tapped the asteroid flippantly for a number of seconds, and launched a burst of nitrogen fuel to disturb the floor mud and pebbles. As soon as these small rocks have been lofted, some hopefully have been blown into the pattern collector.
As a result of indicators from Earth take 18½ minutes to succeed in Bennu, the spacecraft carried out the sampling sequence autonomously. When the mission workforce obtained the sign that the spacecraft had completed its job and retreated to a protected distance from Bennu, workforce members pumped their arms within the air, cheered and despatched one another socially distant high-fives and hugs.
OSIRIS-REx just isn’t the primary spacecraft to seize samples from an asteroid. That distinction goes to Japan’s Hayabusa mission, which introduced again grains of asteroid Itokawa in 2010 (SN: 6/14/10). An encore to that mission, Hayabusa2, collected samples of asteroid Ryugu final 12 months, and is on monitor to land in Australia in December (SN: 2/22/19).
However OSIRIS-REx tried to gather way more materials than Hayabusa2 did. Hayabusa2 hoped to gather 100 milligrams; OSIRIS-REx is aiming for no less than 60 grams, or a bit of greater than two ounces.
Hayabusa2’s scientists don’t have any option to know the way a lot materials it truly collected till the spacecraft returns to Earth. However OSIRIS-REx’s workforce plans to seek out out utilizing the spacecraft itself. On October 24, the spacecraft will lengthen its arm and spin its complete physique. The distinction in the best way it spins earlier than and after the pattern assortment will reveal the mass of the pattern.
OSIRIS-REx will return to Earth in 2023, the place scientists will analyze the rocks in hopes of unlocking particulars of the historical past of the photo voltaic system and the origins of water and life on Earth (SN: 1/15/19).