OSIRIS-Rex was able to stow the precious rock and dust sample collected from the asteroid Bennu, NASA said in a statement.
The robotic spacecraft collected material samples from asteroid Bennu last week, and the materials started leaking materials into space due to a flap that got wedged open.
NASA began a delicate operation this week to prevent the loss of material and store it. Rich Burns, the mission’s project manager, announced the successful completion of the operation.
NASA launched OSIRIS-Rex (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer) on September 8, 2019, to obtain at least 60gms sample from the asteroid Bennu. Bennu is a carbonaceous near-earth asteroid – about the size of a skyscraper and some 200 million miles from Earth. The scientists hope the material collected will help them unravel the origins of our solar system.
Last Tuesday, the probe’s robotic arm kicked up a debris cloud of rocks on Bennu and trapped the materials in a collection device to return to Earth. The operation hit a snag after it picked up too big of a sample. It is estimated that it had collected 400 gms of material, far more than the required 60 gms minimum.
At the end of the probe’s 10 feet arm, the fragments in the collector slowly started to escape into space as some rocks have prevented the compartment from closing completely.
NASA said that they could maneuver the robotic arm to a storage capsule near the spacecraft’s center, drop-off the sample, and close the capsule’s lid. The delicate operation lasted two days as the team had to assess the images from the spacecraft after each step, before the next step can be initiated.
The probe is 200 million miles (320 million kilometers) away, so it takes 18.5 minutes for its transmissions to reach Earth, and any signal from the control room requires the same amount of time to reach Osiris-Rex.
According to Dante Lauretta, the mission’s chief scientist, they have stowed materials far above their minimum goal and looking forwards to receiving them on Earth.
OSIRIS-REx is set to return to Earth in September 2023, hopefully with the largest sample from space since the Apollo era.
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