Since OSIRIS-REx has been in Bennu’s orbit since the end of 2018, NASA has given us ample time to find the right landing point on the unexpected rocky surface. It was clearly well chosen. After the recent successful Touch and Go operation, NASA has been Immerse the probe’s sample return container.
Earlier this month OSIRIS-REx came down and hit the surface, or rather, it should have been a tap. NASA now says the sampling arm could have drilled through 48 cm (19 inches) of loose soil before the nitrogen explosion occurred. That air had to blow about 60 grams of material into the sampling vessel. Instead, they harvested much more.
There was a short but frightening period earlier this week when NASA confirmed that large gravel had opened the lid of the sample container. As a result Asteroid particles were falling Every time the ship moves. NASA has decided to abandon the planned sample measurements over the weekend. This will cause more sample material to drift. In addition, the second sampling run plan was scrapped at the backup Bennu site. Instead, NASA worked to secure an impressive vehicle.
The latest image from OSIRIS-REx shows a sample securely immersed in a sample capsule. This module eventually falls into the Earth’s atmosphere and a heat shield protects the module from atmospheric re-entry. We don’t know exactly how many OSIRIS-REx samples were collected from Bennu, but we know they are at least 60g. NASA estimates that OSIRIS-REx can have 1 kg (1,000 g or 2.2 pounds) of raw asteroid soil in a recovery bin. It’s a huge scale. The payload of a past sample return mission is best measured in milligrams. The recent Hayabusa2 mission is hoping to have 100mg (1/10g) of the asteroid Legolis when landing in the coming months.
Bringing much of Bennu back to Earth could be a watershed for science. Most samples of asteroids on Earth were burned by the atmosphere and smashed by impact. Bennu has changed little since the formation of the universe, and it will be enough for many teams to run many tests that will teach a lot about the early solar system.
Bennu and OSIRIS-REx are now millions of miles away, so it takes time for the probe to return home. NASA plans to orbit Bennu and Earth in close proximity in March 2021. Sample return capsules will return to Earth in September 2023.