Asteroid sample secured
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx probe has gathered so much asteroid dust it could barely close the lid.
NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission has successfully stowed the spacecraft’s Sample Return Capsule (SRC) and its abundant sample of asteroid Bennu.
The probe made history last week when it reached down to grab a sample of Bennu.
The mission team has now sent commands to the spacecraft, instructing it to close the capsule – marking the end of one of the most challenging phases of the mission.
The team spent two days working around the clock to carry out the stowage procedure. OSIRIS-REx is currently more than 330 million km from Earth, so the team had to work with an 18.5-minute time delay for signals traveling in each direction.
“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,” said Rich Burns, OSIRIS-REx project manager.
“Fortunately, the head was captured on the first try, which allowed us to expeditiously execute the stow procedure.”
The stowage process was expedited after the mission team received images that showed the spacecraft’s collector head overflowing with material.
The images indicated that the spacecraft collected well over 60 grams of Bennu’s surface material, and that some of these particles appeared to be slowly escaping from the head.
A mylar flap designed to keep the sample inside the head appeared to be wedged open by some larger rocks. Now that the head is secure inside the SRC, pieces of the sample will no longer be lost.
The spacecraft has now completed the final step of the sample stowage process – closing the SRC. To secure the capsule, the spacecraft closed the lid and then fastened two internal latches. The sample of Bennu is now safely stored and ready for its journey to Earth.