This afternoon, a NASA spacecraft greater than 200 million miles from Earth efficiently touched the floor of an asteroid, in an try to seize a handful of pebbles and dirt from the house rock. Knowledge from the spacecraft confirmed that the automobile did certainly contact the asteroid right this moment, however NASA gained’t know till tomorrow if it truly snagged a pattern of fabric.
The spacecraft that simply tapped the asteroid is OSIRIS-REx, and this sampling maneuver has been years in the making. The primary function of the spacecraft is to deliver a pristine pattern of an asteroid again to Earth, in order that scientists can research the fabric in a lab. Asteroids are thought of to be primordial remnants of the early Photo voltaic System — objects which have remained comparatively unchanged because the daybreak of the planets. Analyzing only a tiny piece of an asteroid may give scientists a wealth of data concerning the varieties of supplies that have been current when the Photo voltaic System was simply getting began.
But when all went nicely with the sampling, OSIRIS-REx’s haul gained’t be tiny. The mission group is hoping to snag as much as 60 grams (2.1 ounces) of filth from the spacecraft’s goal asteroid, named Bennu. If OSIRIS-REx grabbed that a lot materials, it is going to be the biggest pattern from an asteroid ever collected — and the biggest pattern of fabric gathered from one other house physique because the Apollo missions. Two different Japanese missions have sampled asteroids earlier than, however their caches have been within the milligram vary. And OSIRIS-REx may presumably get far more, with the aptitude of gathering as much as 2 kilograms (4.Four kilos) of asteroid samples.
To gather the pattern, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is supplied with an extended, skinny robotic arm, with a cylindrical assortment system hooked up to the tip. This afternoon, the spacecraft descended to the floor of Bennu with the arm prolonged and gently touched the asteroid for just some seconds. Proper because the arm made contact, the automobile launched a blast of nitrogen fuel that hopefully stirred up the rocks on the floor of the asteroid. That ought to have pushed a large quantity of fabric into the collector on the finish of the arm.
NASA expects to know by tomorrow if OSIRIS-REx received a pattern when photographs from the spacecraft begin to are available. “That can give us a significantly better really feel for whether or not we’ve a pattern or not and the way the spacecraft is definitely performing,” Beth Buck, the mission operations program supervisor for OSIRIS-REx at Lockheed Martin, stated throughout a press convention earlier than the pattern maneuver. “However we’ll proceed to research that over the subsequent 10 days or so … as we proceed ahead.”
Over the weekend, the mission group will try to quantify simply how a lot materials OSIRIS-REx scooped up. With the spacecraft backed away from Bennu, the engineers will spin the spacecraft with the sampling arm prolonged. Once they evaluate the spinning automobile’s inertia to earlier knowledge from an emptier spacecraft, the mission group ought to get a transparent thought of simply how a lot they scooped up.
In the event that they determine they did acquire greater than 60 grams of fabric, the group will possible declare successful and begin getting ready for OSIRIS-REx to depart Bennu in March. The spacecraft is slated to reach again on Earth in September 2023. At that time, the pattern materials will parachute right down to the floor, touchdown within the Utah desert.
If the group finds out they didn’t get what they wished, there are alternatives to strive once more. OSIRIS-REx can do as much as two extra pattern makes an attempt, because it has two additional bottles of nitrogen fuel on board to fire up materials. These selections will come later, although. For now, the group is celebrating simply touching the asteroid with OSIRIS-REx. Tomorrow, we’ll study extra about what the spacecraft truly grabbed.