We’ve all been there: you go on holiday, find lots of fabulous stuff and when the time comes to return home, your suitcase just won’t close.
And now that same problem appears to have befallen the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft after its visit to asteroid Bennu.
Which is a good problem to have because despite being confident the craft succeeded in its attempt to scoop up bits of asteroid Bennu last week, project boffins didn’t know how much stuff they’d scored.
New analysis revealed over the weekend suggests the mission has exceeded expectations.
“The Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) performed the sampling event in optimal conditions,” says a weekend post from NASA. “Newly available analyses show that the collector head was flush with Bennu’s surface when it made contact and when the nitrogen gas bottle was fired to stir surface material. It also penetrated several centimetres into the asteroid’s surface material. All data so far suggest that the collector head is holding much more than two ounces of regolith.”
Seeing as OSIRIS-REx’s target sample size was two ounces – about sixty grams – that’s good news.
But it’s also created the excess baggage problem because NASA’s newest photos suggest the TAGSAM is so full that it is leaking.
Mission scientists “suspect bits of material are passing through small gaps where a mylar flap – the collector’s ‘lid’ – is slightly wedged open by larger rocks,” according to the post.
“We are working to keep up with our own success here, and my job is to safely return as large a sample of Bennu as possible,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “The loss of mass is of concern to me, so I’m strongly encouraging the team to stow this precious sample as quickly as possible.”
The team likes that idea: NASA says it is already “finalizing a timeline for sample storage.” ®