Some samples are leaking into space, according to Dainty Lauretta, chief investigator of OSIRIS-REX at the University of Arizona at Tucson, during a NASA press conference.
“The big concern now is that the particles are escaping because we are almost victims of our success,” he said. “Large particles leave the flap open. The particles are spreading in space. They are not moving fast, but still, it is valuable scientific material.”
The mission team on Thursday analyzed images taken from the spacecraft’s collector head, which revealed that a substantial sample had been collected – but the head contained enough material that the flap designed to hold the sample in was jammed .
This is allowing the particles to escape into space. The mission team is changing the course of events planned for the spacecraft this weekend and plans to fly the sample as quickly as possible so that very little material is lost. The researchers estimated that it is continuously losing between 5 and 10 grams of material. This flaky material resembles a cloud of particles around the head.
But the team is not sure about the exact loss rate because it is not stable.
The mission required to collect at least 2 ounces, or 60 grams, of the asteroid’s surface material. Based on the images they analyzed, the researchers believe that the collector head actually captured 400 grams of material at the end of the spacecraft’s robotic arm. And he is only visible to them through the perspective of the camera.
But the particles are escaping through small gaps where a mylar flap, or lid, is being held open by large rocks at least one centimeter. And planned activities for the spacecraft this weekend could cause more sample loss due to movement.
Previously, OSIRIS-Rex was expected to measure breaking mass on Friday and sample mass on Saturday. While this means that the team will not know the true mass of the sample until it returns to Earth in 2023, the mission team is confident that it will have enough sample.
“We are working for our success here, and my job is to safely come back as a large sample of Benue,” said Loretta. “Loss of mass is a concern for me, so I am encouraging the team to stove this precious sample as soon as possible.”
The team will undergo another evaluation process later this week to ensure that the sample head can be put into a sample return capsule by Tuesday to protect loose material and to keep precious cargo safe so that it can return to Earth Could come.
The sample head is so full due to the unexpected collection incident on Tuesday.
Collector head made direct contact during Tuesday’s program – and then some. During six seconds when the head touched the bottom, it sank into the surface of the asteroid 5 cm. When a pressurized nitrogen gas bottle is fired, the material is designed to lift off the surface, the head sinks an additional 24 to 48 cm into the surface material.
Loretta stated that there is no way to close the flap. Although the team is not sure about the force of the rocks caught in the open, it should be strong and at the size limit for what could be in the head of the collection, he said.
This is not something the team encountered in their test expedition before the launch of the mission – including large rocks and specimen collection heads buried by the asteroid’s surface material. But the researchers did not test the specimen’s head at the depth to which they suspect it actually arrived at the asteroid.
“Beanu surprises us with great science and is throwing some curbballs too,” said NASA associate Thomas Zurbuchen of the Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington.
“While we may have to move more quickly to stow the specimen, it is not a bad problem. We are very excited to see that there appears to be a plentiful specimen that has been known for decades beyond this historical moment in science Will inspire. ”
Even if the specimen runs out next week, the spacecraft will not begin its journey back to Earth until March 2021, when the asteroid that is currently 200 million miles from Earth is in alignment with our planet for a more efficient journey is .
According to the team, the spacecraft “remains in good health” to return to Earth.