On October 20th, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft gently touched the Bennu asteroid, let out a puff of air, and collected the agency’s first sample of free-range asteroid rubble. But NASA is now racing to secure the sample, as OSIRIS-REx’s collection head is wedged open and slowly losing material that it dared to take from a roaming space rock.
OSIRIS-REx launched in 2016 to intercept and collect a sample from the 1640-foot-wide Bennu asteroid. Its goal, to collect at least 60 grams of material from the space rock, could facilitate research in chemistry, planetary science, and other big-brain subjects. While we have plenty of meteorite samples, asteroids are “uncontaminated,” as they haven’t passed through our atmosphere.
NASA is very serious about its 60-gram goal, and even planned to send poor OSIRIS-REx back to Bennu if it didn’t collect enough material. But the agency is facing a different problem. Images received October 23rd confirm that the craft has an adequate sample, but it seems that some asteroid debris are wedged in the collection chamber’s mylar “lid.”
To prevent loose material from slipping out of the open collection chamber, NASA is forgoing the “sample mass measurement” activity scheduled for Saturday, among other items on the OSIRIS-REx schedule. For now, NASA will focus on stowing its precious sample in a Sample Return Capsule, which will keep material safe as the craft returns to Earth.
NASA plans to provide OSIRIS-REx updates over the weekend. You can find more information on the agency’s website.