The mission team received images sent by the spacecraft last Thursday and confirmed that the sample collection head was filled with surface material. Too much of the flap was wedged into the rock, allowing the particles to escape into space.
The team canceled a scheduled maneuver of the spacecraft that would have been used to estimate the mass of the samples they collected. However, researchers are convinced that this spacecraft has collected well in excess of the mission requirement of 2 ounces or 60 grams.
Due to the success of sample collection, the team worked over the weekend to prepare for sample storage, originally scheduled for November 2.
“The abundance of data we gathered from Bennu allowed us to expedite our storage decisions,” said Dante Lauretta, senior researcher at OSIRIS-REx at Arizona University in Tucson, in a statement. “The team is now working on reducing storage times around the clock to ensure maximum protection of this material for its return to Earth.”
The collection head is housed in the spacecraft’s sample return capsule to protect the material collected by the spacecraft during a short and historic touchdown of about 6 seconds at Bennu last week.
This is NASA’s first mission to land and collect samples on an asteroid and will be returned to Earth in September 2023. .
Asteroids and spacecraft are now more than 200 million miles from Earth. This results in a one-way 18.5 minute delay in communication between OSIRIS-REx and mission teams on Earth.
The spacecraft operated autonomously during the collection event last week due to this delay. But archiving is a different story.
Handle with care
Each step of archiving samples requires supervision and orders from the team. Basically, every time the spacecraft completes a step, it sends data and images back to the team. When researchers receive it, they evaluate the progress of OSIRIS-REx and send another command.
This will place the collection head into the capsule with proper care.
This storage process takes several days at the team’s estimates, but it allows samples to be safely stored, sealed and returned to Earth.
To help with this process, team members rely on a new imaging sequence to help observe material leaking from the collection head. You can also use this feature to make sure that the loading is not obstructed by falling particles.
The spacecraft will not depart for Earth until March 2021 when the asteroid is in line with Earth, allowing it to return to a fuel-efficient home.
“We are proud of the remarkable achievements and successes of the OSIRIS-REx team so far,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s deputy manager of the Scientific Missions Department, in a statement.
“This mission is in a good position to bring the historical samples of asteroids back to Earth, and they have done all the right things on a quick timetable to protect their precious cargo.”