Published: Sun, November 22, 2020
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NASA Building New State-of-the-Art Labs to Study New Asteroid Samples, Cosmic Mysteries

NASA Building New State-of-the-Art Labs to Study New Asteroid Samples, Cosmic Mysteries

The historic mission lasted 12 years and a critical 16-second period in production, where the minivan-sized Osiris-Rex spacecraft stretched its 11-foot (3.35 m) robotic arm toward a flat gravel near Penn's North Pole and snatched a sample of rocks - NASA's first asteroid rock.

Not all samples will be analyzed immediately, like those brought back from the Moon by the Apollo astronauts, which NASA is still opening up 50 years later.

To store the sample, engineers will command the robotic arm to place the sample collector head into the Sample Return Capsule (SRC), located in the body of the spacecraft.

The mission, if it goes successfully, will be the first USA mission to carry samples from an asteroid back to Earth and the largest sample returned from space since the Apollo era, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

The OSIRIS-REx team hopes to collect at least 60g of dust and pebbles from Bennu to send back to Earth.

"Our first indication of whether we were successful in collecting a sample will come (Wednesday) when we downlink the back-away movie from the spacecraft", OSIRIS-REx deputy project manager Michael Moreau said. The arm will collect a sample between 2 bac and 2 kg before returning from safety.

Image of the NASA space explorer OSIRIS-REx touching down on the asteroid Bennu. But it may take a week before scientists know how much, if any, seizures have been taken, and if another attempt is needed. As part of the preparations, NASA is building a separate lab for the Hayabusa2 samples next to the OSIRIS-REx rooms so they can share commonly needed infrastructure, such as air handling systems and nitrogen storage environments.

In a separate development, launch vehicles, spacecraft, and in-space services provider Firefly Aerospace has successfully completed the acceptance test of the first stage of its Alpha launch vehicle for its inaugural flight later this year. It has been in orbit around the asteroid for nearly two years preparing for the Touch and Go maneuver.

Scientists want to get between 60 grams and 2 kilograms of Bennu's black, carbon-rich material, which is thought to contain the building blocks of our solar system. During the maneuver, the spacecraft and the asteroid will be approximately 207 million miles (334 million km) from Earth.

It's "almost a Rosetta stone, something that's out there and tells the history of our entire Earth, of the solar system during the last billions of years", said NASA's chief scientist, Thomas Zurbuchen. The more scientists know about the paths and properties of potentially unsafe space rocks like this one, the better. If not, OSIRIS-REx will prepare for another attempt on 12 January.

Osiris-Rex can make up to three touch-and-go maneuvers in case one comes up short. "The spacecraft will then divert away from Earth, going into orbit around the sun, and the canister will descend to the atmosphere and on a parachute land in the Utah desert just before 9:00 a.m. Mountain Daylight Time on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023".

All spacecraft telemetry data indicates the TAG event executed as expected, NASA said. Asteroids are remnants from that era, more than 4.5 billion years ago.

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