NASA Spacecraft Ready to Grab Sample from Spinning Asteroid
On 20 October OSIRIS REx will briefly touch asteroid Bennu and blow gas into its soil to dislodge dust and rock
GODDARD SPACE FLIGHT CENTER, MARYLAND — Nasa's OSIRIS REx spacecraft is about to become the first American spacecraft to grab a piece of an asteroid and bring it back to Earth.
During its many months of orbiting and analysing the asteroid, the spacecraft found signs that the asteroid might contain water and organic compounds.
Nasa's OSIRIS REx spacecraft has been orbiting around asteroid Bennu for almost two years and is scheduled to grab a sample from the 500-meter-wide space rock on October 20.
Having spent months analyzing the composition and surface of the asteroid, the spacecraft is now ready to fold up its solar panels, unfold its sampling arm, and slowly descend to touch the asteroid's surface.
When its probe touches the surface, it will blow high-pressure nitrogen gas into the soil, stirring up loose material. A filter within the sample head will trap rocks and dirt, while allowing the gas to escape into space.
Next, the spacecraft will fire its thrusters and retreat to a safe distance with its precious cargo.
Back in orbit, a special camera will be used to make sure the sample head does not have harmful debris sticking out of it.
Next, the spacecraft will measure the mass of the sample, by extending its sampler arm all the way, and spinning around. The craft will then calculate the change in its inertia to determine the sample's mass.
If the sample mass is more than 60 grams, the spacecraft will store the sample head inside its return capsule. The capsule will protect the sample during the violence of reentry, after which it will release a parachute to stabilize and reduce speed for a safe touchdown in Utah.
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