OSIRIS-REx Stows Sample of Asteroid Bennu’s Regolith

OSIRIS-REx Stows Sample of Asteroid Bennu’s Regolith

On October 28, 2020, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft successfully stowed its Sample Return Capsule (SRC) with a sample of surface material from the near-Earth asteroid Bennu.

This image shows OSIRIS-REx’s collector head hovering over the Sample Return Capsule after the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism arm moved it into the proper position for capture. Image credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center / University of Arizona / Lockheed Martin.

The OSIRIS-REx scientists spent two days working around the clock to carry out the stowage procedure, with preparations for the stowage event beginning October 24.

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, they had to assess images and telemetry from the previous step to confirm the operation was successful and the spacecraft was ready to continue.

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

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

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 complexity of the process to place the sample collector head onto the capture ring, we expected that it would take a few attempts to get it in the perfect position,” said OSIRIS-REx project manager Dr. Rich Burns, a researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

“Fortunately, the head was captured on the first try, which allowed us to expeditiously execute the stow procedure.”

This image shows OSIRIS-REx’s collector head secured onto the capture ring in the Sample Return Capsule. Image credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center / University of Arizona / Lockheed Martin.

By the evening of October 27, the TAGSAM arm had placed the collector head into the SRC.

The following morning, the OSIRIS-REx researchers verified that the collector head was thoroughly fastened into the capsule by performing a ‘backout check.’

This sequence commanded the TAGSAM arm to attempt to back out of the capsule — which tugged on the collector head and ensured the latches are well secured.

On the afternoon of October 28, following the backout check, the team sent commands to disconnect the two mechanical parts on the TAGSAM arm that connect the sampler head to the arm.

OSIRIS-REx first cut the tube that carried the nitrogen gas that stirred up the sample through the TAGSAM head during sample collection, and then separated the collector head from the TAGSAM arm itself.

That evening, the spacecraft completed the final step of the sample stowage process — closing the SRC.

To secure the capsule, the spacecraft closed the lid and then fastened two internal latches.

“This achievement by OSIRIS-REx on behalf of NASA and the world has lifted our vision to the higher things we can achieve together, as teams and nations,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

“Together a team comprising industry, academia and international partners, and a talented and diverse team of NASA employees with all types of expertise, has put us on course to vastly increase our collection on Earth of samples from space.”

“Samples like this are going to transform what we know about our Universe and ourselves, which is at the base of all NASA’s endeavors.”


This article is based on a press-release provided by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

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