NASA Makes Historic First Landing on Asteroid

And collect samples of debris that will transform what we know about our universe and about the earth

Jesús Salazar
5 min readNov 4, 2020
Captured by the spacecraft’s SamCam camera on Oct. 22, 2020, this series of three images shows that the sampler head on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is full of rocks and dust collected from the surface of the asteroid Bennu. They show also that some of these particles are slowly escaping the sampler head. Analysis by the OSIRIS-REx team suggests that bits of material are passing through small gaps where the head’s mylar flap is slightly wedged open. The mylar flap (the black bulge on the left inside the ring) is designed to keep the collected material locked inside, and these unsealed areas appear to be caused by larger rocks that didn’t fully pass through the flap. Based on available imagery, the team suspects there is plentiful sample inside the head, and is on a path to stow the sample as quickly as possible. Credits: NASA

NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission has effectively stowed the rocket’s Sample Return Capsule (SRC) and its plentiful example of space rock Bennu.

On Wednesday, Oct. 28, the mission group sent orders to the rocket, training it to close the case — denoting the finish of one of the most testing periods of the mission.

“This accomplishment by OSIRIS-REx in the interest of NASA and the world has lifted our vision to the higher things we can accomplish together, as groups and countries,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

“Together with a group including industry, the scholarly community and global accomplices, and a gifted and assorted group of NASA representatives with a wide range of skill, has put us on course to inconceivably build our assortment on Earth of tests from space. Tests like this will change what we think about our universe and ourselves, which is at the base of every one of NASA’s undertakings.”

The mission team spent two days working around the clock to carry out the storage procedure, with preparations for the stowage event beginning last weekend.

The process to stow the sample is unique compared to other spacecraft operations and required the team’s continuous oversight and input over the two-day period.

For the spacecraft to proceed with each step in the stowage sequence, the team had to assess images and telemetry from the previous step to confirm the operation was successful and the spacecraft was ready to continue.

Given that OSIRIS-REx is currently more than 205 million miles (330 million km) from Earth, this required the team to also work with a greater than 18.5-minute time delay for signals traveling in each direction.

Throughout the process, the OSIRIS-REx team continually assessed the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism’s (TAGSAM) wrist alignment to ensure the collector’s head was being placed properly into the SRC.

Additionally, the team inspected images to observe any material escaping from the collector’s head to confirm that no particles would hinder the stowage process.

The left image shows the OSIRIS-REx collector head hovering over the Sample Return Capsule (SRC) after the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism arm moved it into the proper position for capture. The right image shows the collector head secured onto the capture ring in the SRC. Both images were captured by the StowCam camera. Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/Lockheed Martin

StowCam images of the stowage sequence show that a few particles escaped during the stowage procedure, but the team is confident that a plentiful amount of material remains inside of the head.

“Given the intricacy of the cycle to put the example gatherer head onto the catch ring, we expected that it would take a couple of endeavors to get it in the ideal position,” said Rich Burns, OSIRIS-REx venture administrator at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Luckily, the head was caught on the principal attempt, which permitted us to speedily execute the stow system.”

By the night of Oct. 27, the shuttle’s TAGSAM arm had put the gatherer head into the SRC. The next morning, the OSIRIS-REx group confirmed that the gatherer’s head was completely affixed into the container by playing out a “backout check.”

This succession told the TAGSAM arm to endeavor to retreat from the case — which pulled on the authority head and guaranteed the locks are very much made sure about.

Captured on Oct. 28, this imaging sequence shows NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft completing the final step of the sample stowage process: closing its SRC. To seal the SRC, the spacecraft closes the lid and then secures two internal latches. The sample of Bennu is now safely stored and ready for its journey to Earth. The image sequence was captured by the StowCam camera. StowCam, a color imager, is one of three cameras comprising TAGCAMS (the Touch-and-Go Camera System), which is part of OSIRIS-REx’s guidance, navigation, and control system. TAGCAMS was designed, built and tested by Malin Space Science Systems; Lockheed Martin integrated TAGCAMS to the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft and operates TAGCAMS. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/Lockheed Martin

“I need to thank the OSIRIS-REx group from the University of Arizona, NASA Goddard, Lockheed Martin, and their accomplices, and furthermore particularly the SCaN and Deep Space Network individuals at NASA and JPL, who worked enthusiastically to get us the transfer speed we expected to accomplish this achievement, early and keeping in mind that still countless miles away,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s partner overseer for science at the office’s central command in Washington.

“What we have done is a genuine first for NASA, and we will profit for quite a long time by what we have had the option to accomplish at Bennu.”

On the evening of Oct. 28, following the backout check, the mission group sent orders to detach the two mechanical parts on the TAGSAM arm that interface the sampler head to the arm.

The rocket originally cut the cylinder that conveyed the nitrogen gas that worked up the example through the TAGSAM head during test assortment and afterward isolated the authority head from the TAGSAM arm itself.

That night, the rocket finished the last advance of the example stowage measure — shutting the SRC. To make sure about the case, the rocket shut the top and afterward secured two inward locks. Starting late Oct. 28, the example of Bennu is securely put away and prepared for its excursion to Earth.

“I’m appreciative that our group endeavored to get this example stowed as fast as they did,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx head specialist at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “Presently we can anticipate accepting the example here on Earth and opening up that case.”

The stowage cycle, initially booked to start toward the beginning of November, was assisted after example assortment when the mission group got pictures that demonstrated the rocket’s authority head flooding with the material.

Actual footage of OSIRIS-Rex collection arm on Bennu — Photo by: NASA

The pictures demonstrated that the shuttle gathered well more than 2 ounces (60 grams) of Bennu’s surface material and that a portion of these particles gave off an impression of being gradually getting away from the head.

A mylar fold intended to keep the example inside the head had all the earmarks of being wedged open by some bigger rocks. Since the head is secure inside the SRC, bits of the example will not, at this point be lost.

The OSIRIS-REx group will presently zero in on setting up the shuttle for the following period of the mission — Earth Return Cruise. The takeoff window opens in March 2021 for OSIRIS-REx to start its journey home, and the shuttle is focusing on the conveyance of the SRC to Earth on Sep. 24, 2023.

Goddard gives generally mission the executives, frameworks designing, and the wellbeing and mission affirmation for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is the central agent, and the University of Arizona additionally drives the science group and the mission’s science perception arranging and information handling.

Lockheed Martin Space in Littleton fabricated the rocket and gives flight activities. Goddard and KinetX Aerospace are liable for exploring the OSIRIS-REx rocket.

OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program, which is overseen by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the office’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.



Jesús Salazar

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