NASA robotic arm collects sample of asteroid Bennu theft, but some it’s escaping

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The spacecraft’s sampling arm, referred to as the Contact-And-Go Pattern Acquisition Mechanism, over the goal pattern web site throughout a costume rehearsal in April. 


NASA’s asteroid-chaser Osiris-Rex accomplished a key a part of its mission this week by managing to nab some rocks from the floor of the doubtless hazardous asteroid Bennu, NASA reported Friday.

The spacecraft traveled over 200 million miles and 4 years to briefly stumble upon Bennu, blast it with compressed gasoline and accumulate bits of its floor. The house company on Wednesday shared the primary batch of photos from the daring operation, revealing a delicate-yet-explosive second between rock and robotic.

When the spacecraft’s robotic sampling arm, named Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism,  or Tagsam, touched down on Bennu, it carried out what quantities to a cosmic pickpocketing maneuver.  Mission planners anticipated that the full time of contact between the arm and asteroid could be lower than 16 seconds. When preliminary data was released, it confirmed that the interval of contact was simply six seconds, with a lot of the pattern assortment occurring in solely the primary three.

The spacecraft, which operates largely autonomously because of the 18-minute communications delay with mission management on Earth, fired a canister of gasoline via Tagsam that disrupted the floor of Bennu and compelled a pattern into the arm’s collector head. 

Photographs taken of the pinnacle on Thursday confirmed that a lot pattern was collected that some bigger rocks appeared to fail to make all of it the way in which inside, wedging a mylar flap meant to seal the container partially open, permitting some small bits of mud and pebbles to flee again out into house. 

Captured by the spacecraft’s SamCam digital camera Oct. 22, this sequence of three photos reveals the sampler head on Osiris-Rex is stuffed with rocks and dirt collected from the floor of Bennu. Additionally they present that a few of these particles are slowly escaping the sampler head. 


“Bennu continues to shock us with nice science and likewise throwing just a few curveballs,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s affiliate administrator for science, in a press release. “And though we might have to maneuver extra shortly to stow the pattern, it isn’t a foul downside to have. We’re so excited to see what seems to be an ample pattern that may encourage science for many years past this historic second.”

Osiris-Rex was designed to the touch down on a flat, even floor, however Bennu is so rocky the group discovered no appropriate house. Thankfully, Osiris-Rex outperformed its design and was in a position to carry out its sampling on a web site dubbed Nightingale, which is simply about as huge as just a few parking areas. 

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NASA efficiently lands Osiris-Rex spacecraft on an asteroid…


Osiris-Rex tags a boulder

Because the spacecraft approached after which spent two years orbiting and surveying Bennu, it turned clear this tiny world is totally different from what scientists anticipated. The group hoped to seek out a variety of sandy surfaces ultimate for sampling, however it seems Bennu is a rubble pile, with a rugged terrain strewn with boulders. 

Round 24 hours after the operation, NASA shared the first images of the landing operation captured by the spacecraft. The Tagsam strikes into place and its sampling head makes contact with Bennu’s floor earlier than the explosive burst of nitrogen is fired. The operation kicks up a ton of particles that flies across the acquisition arm. It is actually one thing!



Though the above GIF seems comparatively quick, the operation proceeded way more delicately. The arm was lowered at round 10 centimeters per second, a lot slower than strolling tempo, when it contacted the pattern web site. 

The group’s aim is to gather about 60 grams of mud, filth and pebbles from the floor of Bennu. It reported on Friday that it believes Osiris-Rex collected a adequate pattern and moved to start to stow it shortly, skipping a deliberate pattern mass measurement and canceling a braking burn to maintain acceleration of the spacecraft to a minimal.

“We’re working to maintain up with our personal success right here, and my job is to securely return as massive a pattern of Bennu as doable,” mentioned Dante Lauretta, Osiris-Rex principal investigator on the College of Arizona.

The Osiris-Rex group celebrates in the meanwhile of landing.


The mission joins Japan’s Hayabusa and Hayabusa-2 missions within the annals of asteroid exploration. Hayabusa sampled and returned a tiny bit of fabric from asteroid Itokawa, and Hayabusa2 is within the means of returning a big pattern of house rock Ryugu.

As soon as the pattern is stowed, the group will start preparations for a protracted journey again to Earth, with a deliberate touchdown within the Utah desert in September 2023.

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Eric Mack