After orbiting the nearest planet Moon Bannu for nearly two years, NASA’s Osiris-RX spacecraft has successfully landed and reached its robotic arm to collect samples from the planet’s surface. This specimen will return to Earth in 2023.
To achieve this historic first for NASA, a van-sized spacecraft had to land briefly below its arm at a landing site called Nightingale. The site is the width of some parking spaces. The arm will collect a sample, which may weigh up to two kilograms before returning to safety.
The agency will be able to confirm if a later sample was successfully collected.
“This is a historic first mission for NASA to return a sample of a planetary group, and it is difficult,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate manager of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.
The site itself is built inside a tennis court-sized graveyard and is enclosed in building-sized rocks.
Located at a distance of about 320 million kilometers from Earth, Benu is a spherical planet shaped like a spinning top and as high as an empire state building. It is a “wreckage” group of rocks collected by gravity rather than a single unit.
Mission – which means segmentation, spectral interpretation, resource identification, security-regolith explorer – was launched in September, 2016.
Since arriving in Benue, the spacecraft and its cameras have been assembled and sent back to help the team learn more about the ship’s structure and map out the best possible landing sites for sample collection.
The main event of the mission is called the Touch-and-Go Sampling Event, or TAG.
Benu has a circle that brings it closer to the earth, hence it is considered to be the closest star to the earth. One approach to its future could bring it dangerously close to Earth at some point in the next century; It has a potential to affect our planet 2700.
Benu’s specimens can help scientists understand not only the planets that can affect the Earth, but also how planets are formed and how life began.
“Benu is almost a rosta rock there, and it tells the history of our earth and solar system over the last billions of years,” Zurbuchen said. “Benu has presented a lot of challenges, but the team’s skills have enabled us to get there.”
Instead of the so-called “seven-minute terror” of trying to land the Perseverance Rover on Tuesday next year, the OSIRIS-RX team experienced “4.5 hours of mild anxiety,” according to Beth Buck, the mission’s operations program manager. Lockheed Martin Space in Littleton, Colorado.
The program will officially air at 1:57 p.m.
During this time, the spacecraft landed around the planet from its orbit and came close enough to touch it.
Touching down on a planet
The ceremony took a total of four and a half hours and the spacecraft made three moves to collect the sample.
The spacecraft fired shots to release its safe bit Rabbit around the storm, which is about 760 meters above the surface, and traveled a total of four hours before reaching a distance of 124 meters. Then, the spacecraft was adjusted for position and speed to continue the descent.
OSIRIS-Rex then slowed its descent to target a path so it coincided with the rotation of the planet during contact. Its solar panels were attached to a Y-wing structure on top of the spacecraft to protect them.
Finally, the OSIRIS-REx touched for less than 16 seconds. The spacecraft threw a pressurized nitrogen bottle into the storm, which used the gas to lift matter from Bennu’s surface.
If sample collection was planned, the spacecraft’s collector head acquired the flammable material. Located on the arm of an 11-foot-long robotic model, the head is the only part of the spacecraft that touched Benu. The team compares it to an air filter in an older model car, perfect for collecting fine materials.
Small discs, which can collect dust like sticky pads, are located on the head even if part of the sample exercise does not go according to plan.
A camera from the spacecraft has captured footage of the collection.
The OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft was tasked with detecting danger and delaying its own mission if there were any obstacles in the way of sample collection. Based on its simulations, the team estimated that the spacecraft had a 6% chance of leaving the mission unfinished.
Kalpana will be returned by the spacecraft on Wednesday, which will provide more details on the storage of the specimen and how the spacecraft is moving forward.
The team estimates they will have a large sample size on Saturday. By October 30, NASA will confirm that the spacecraft has collected enough samples, or if it is called Asprey at another landing site in January, an attempt needs to be made to collect samples.
But if all goes well, the spacecraft and its precious specimen will embark on a long journey to return to Earth next year and the specimen will land on Earth in 2023.