NASA probes successfully contacted asteroids 321 million kilometers away from Earth

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NASA’s Source Spectral Interpretation Resource Safe Weathering Recognition Probe (OSIRIS-REx) deployed its robotic arm on Tuesday, making its first attempt to briefly touch an asteroid and collect dust and small pebbles from the surface of the asteroid. These samples will then be shipped to Earth in 2023.

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This well-preserved ancient asteroid is called Bennu (Bennu), currently more than 321 million kilometers away from the earth. Bennu provides scientists with a window into the early solar system, because it formed billions of years ago and threw into it ingredients that might help life on Earth. If Tuesday’s sample collection event (i.e.”take and go” (TAG)) provides enough samples, the mission team will order the spacecraft to begin storing precious original samples and begin returning to Earth in March 2021. They will prepare for another attempt in January next year.

“For NASA, this is an amazing start. It illustrates how an incredible team from all over the country can unite and persevere in tough challenges. Expanding the scope of knowledge.” NASA Administrator Jim Bradenstein said,”Our industry, academia, and international partners have made it possible for us to master the oldest solar system.”

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The OSIRIS-REx launches at 1:50 pm EDT on Tuesday in the United States Thruster to push itself out of Bennu orbit. It stretches the shoulders of its 3.35 meters) sampling arm, then the elbow, and then the wrist. This sampling arm is called the “touch and go” sampling and acquisition mechanism (TAGSAM). When passing through the Bennu asteroid, At the same time it dropped about 805 meters. After four hours of descent, at an altitude of approximately 125 meters, the spacecraft performed a”checkpoint” combustion, the first of two operations, to allow it to precisely align the sample called”Nightingale” Collection point.

Ten minutes later, the spacecraft launches its thrusters for a second”Matchpoint” combustion to slow down its descent speed and match the rotation of the asteroid when it comes into contact. Then, after traveling along a section of the surface of a sinister asteroid, after an 11-minute period of terrible terrain, landed on the boulder of a two-story building named”Mountain of Doom”, in the northern hemisphere of Bennu. Landed in a prominent place in a crater. The”Nightingale” site is only the size of a small parking lot, and is one of several relatively conspicuous scenes on the space rock covered by this huge boulder.

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“This is an incredible feat-today , We have improved the level of science and engineering, and improved the prospects for future missions to study these mysterious ancient solar system narrators,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, deputy director of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. We sampled from a primitive rock that has witnessed the entire history of the solar system. Now we may be ready to take these samples home. We can’t wait to know what will happen next.”

“After more than ten years The team is pleased with the success of today’s sampling attempt.” said Dante Lauretta, principal investigator of OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona in Tucson, “Even if we need to do some work to determine the outcome of the event, But the successful contact, the gas ignition of TAGSAM and the retreat from Bennu are all major achievements of the team. I look forward to analyzing the data to determine the number of samples collected.”

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All spacecraft telemetry data indicate TAG events that performed as expected. However, the OSIRIS-REx team will spend about a week to confirm how many samples the spacecraft has collected.

Real-time data shows that TAGSAM successfully touched the ground and injected a burst of nitrogen. The gas should stir up the dust and pebbles on Bennu’s surface, some of which should have been collected in the TAGSAM sample collection port. OSIRIS-REx engineers also confirmed that shortly after the spacecraft contacted the ground, it launched the thruster and retreated safely from Bennu.

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“Today’s TAG exercise is historic,” located in Washington Lori Glaze, Director of the Planetary Science Department at NASA Headquarters, said, “In addition to all the other milestones that have been achieved on this mission, the fact that we safely and successfully reached Bennu’s surface is a testament to continued exploration. The secret exploration spirit of the solar system.”

“It is difficult to say how exciting it is to receive confirmation that the spacecraft successfully touched the ground and launched a gas cylinder,” NASA in Greenbelt, Maryland Michael Morrow, deputy project manager of OSIRIS-REx at Goddard Space Center, said, “The team can’t wait to receive images of the TAG event late tonight and see how Bennu’s surface responds to the TAG event.”

< p>The spacecraft autonomously executes TAG according to the pre-programmed instructions of the earth engineer. Now, the OSIRIS-REx team will begin to evaluate whether the spacecraft has captured any material, and if so, how much material has been captured. The target is at least 60 grams, roughly equivalent to a standard-sized candy bar.

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OSIRIS-REx engineers and scientists will use multiple technologies To remotely identify and measure samples. First, they will compare the images of the Nightingale site before and after the TAG to understand how much ground material moves with the gas explosion.

“The first sign of whether we can successfully collect samples will be on October 21st, when we are going back and forth from the spacecraft,” Moreau said,”If the TAG interferes severely On the surface, we may collect a lot of materials.”

Next, the team will try to determine the amount of samples collected. One method involves taking pictures of the TAGSAM head with a camera called SamCam, which is designed to record the sample collection process and determine if dust and stones enter the collection port. An indirect indicator is the amount of dust found around the mouth of the sample collector. OSIRIS-REx engineers will also try to take photos. Under proper lighting conditions, these photos may show the inside of the head, so engineers can look for evidence of samples.

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A few days after analyzing the SamCam image, the spacecraft will try Another method is to measure the mass of the collected sample by determining the change in the spacecraft’s”moment of inertia”. This phrase describes how the mass is distributed and how it affects the rotation of the probe around its central axis. This operation requires extending the TAGSAM arm to one side of the spacecraft, and then slowly rotating the spacecraft along an axis perpendicular to the TAGSAM arm. This technique is similar to a person rotating while extending one arm while holding a rope with a ball. People can perceive the quality of the ball through the tension of the string. After performing this operation before and after TAG, the engineer can measure the change in the quality of the collection head because of the inside of the sample.

“We will combine TAG data with post-TAG images and quality measurement results to assess our confidence in collecting at least 60 grams of samples.” Goddard OSIRIS-REx project manager Rich Burns said,”If we have With high confidence, we will decide to store samples on October 30.”


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In order to store samples, the engineer will order the robotic arm to put the sample collector head into the sample return compartment (SRC) located in the main body of the spacecraft. Then, the sample arm will be retracted to the side of the spacecraft for the last time, the SRC will be closed, and the spacecraft will be ready to depart from Bennu in March 2021. This is Bennu’s next return flight with the earth to be correctly aligned with the most fuel-efficient return flight .

However, if it is found that the spacecraft did not collect enough samples in Nightingale, it will attempt another TAG maneuver on January 12, 2021. If this happens, it will land at an alternate location called”Osprey”. Another area within the crater near Bennu’s equator is relatively free of boulders.

OSIRIS-REx was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Base on September 8, 2016. It arrived in Bennu on December 3, 2018, and began orbiting the asteroid for the first time on December 31, 2018. The spacecraft is scheduled to return to Earth on September 24, 2023, when it will land the SRC in the western desert of Utah, where scientists will wait to collect it.