Yesterday, NASA shared stunning images of its OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft which touched down an asteroid. The images reveal how the vehicle ended up stirring the debris and rocks on the surface of the object when they came into contact. The aim of the tap was to gather the sample material from the asteroid; however, the engineers controlling the spacecraft said that they weren’t convinced if they collected anything. When they spun their vehicle and measured the material inside, they found that the mission was indeed successful.
Dante Lauretta, primary investigator of OSIRIS-RE at the University of Arizona said that “Bottom line is from analysis of the images that we’ve gotten down so far, is that the sampling event went really well, as good as we could have imagined it would. And I think the chances that there’s the material inside... have gone way up based on the analysis of the images.”
The images have also shown how OSIRIS-Rex collected the asteroid dirt from the asteroid itself. It is now named Bennu. The pictures showcase the end of the OSIRIS-Rex robotic arm wide open and gently putting pressure on Bennu’s surface as per the real-time data.
“We were in contact with the surface for about six seconds, and our collection time about five seconds.” – said Sandy Freund, who is the OSIRIS-Rex's mission support manager at the Lock head Martin during the press conference.
Apparently, when the machine’s arm touched Bennu, nitrogen gas was whiffed off, causing the pebbles and rocks on the asteroid to sort of twirl around and dance in frenzy.
On Saturday, the engineers will send the OSIRIS-Rex out for a spin with the same tactics to measure the inertia of the vehicle. Next, they’ll make a comparison of the measurements but without the sample arm. This difference would be able to tell us how much material the vehicle was able to grab on Tuesday.
Once the vehicle is able to grab at least 60 grams, the team will make preparations to leave Bennu and come back home.