Samples of the asteroid Bennu are spilled from the jammed OSIRIS...

Samples of the asteroid Bennu are spilled from the jammed OSIRIS...
Samples of the asteroid Bennu are spilled from the jammed OSIRIS...

Die Associated PressOct 26, 2020 10:18:17 AM

A NASA spacecraft is filled with so much asteroid debris that it jams and valuable particles drift away in space, scientists said Friday. Scientists announced the news three days after the spacecraft Osiris-Rex briefly touched the asteroid Bennu, NASA’s first attempt at such a mission. Mission’s lead scientist, Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, said Tuesday’s operation 200 million miles away collected far more material than expected for the return to Earth – in hundreds of grams.

The sample container at the end of the robot arm penetrated the asteroid so deep and with such force that stones were sucked in and clamped around the edge of the lid. Scientists estimate that the sampler was pushed up to 48 centimeters into the rough, crumbly, black terrain.

“We’re almost a victim of our own success here,” Lauretta said at a hastily arranged press conference.

The arm of the OSIRIS spacecraft collides with Bennu. Image courtesy NASA Goddard / YouTube

Lauretta said there is nothing air traffic controllers can do to remove the obstacles and keep more pieces of Bennu from escaping than getting the samples into their return capsule as quickly as possible. So the flight team tried to fill the sample container into the capsule on Tuesday – much earlier than originally planned – for the long journey home.

“Time is of the essence,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, head of NASA’s science missions.

This is NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission. Bennu was chosen because its carbon-rich material is believed to contain the preserved building blocks of our solar system. Getting pieces out of this cosmic time capsule could help scientists better understand how the planets formed billions of years ago and how life on Earth came about.

Scientists were stunned – and then dismayed – on Thursday when they saw the images of Osiris-Rex after performing a hugely successful touch-and-go in Bennu two days earlier.

A cloud of asteroid particles swirled around the spaceship as it retreated from Bennu. According to Lauretta, once the robotic arm locked into place, the situation seemed to stabilize. However, it was impossible to know exactly how much had already been lost.

The requirement for the $ 800 million mission was to bring back at least 60 grams.

Regardless of what’s on board, Osiris-Rex will still leave the vicinity of the asteroid in March – this is the earliest possible departure given the relative locations of Earth and Bennu. The samples won’t make it back until 2023, seven years after the spaceship was blown away from Cape Canaveral.

Osiris-Rex will continue to move away from Bennu and will not orbit him again as he is waiting for his scheduled departure.

Because of the sudden turn of events, scientists will not know how much the sample capsule contains until it is back on Earth. They originally planned to rotate the spaceship to measure its contents, but this maneuver was canceled because it could spill more debris.

“I think we’ll have to wait until we get home to know exactly how much we have,” Lauretta told reporters. “As you can imagine, this is difficult. … But the good news is we’re seeing a lot of material. ”

Japan, meanwhile, is waiting for its second batch of samples, taken from another asteroid, to be released in December.

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