NASA Spacecraft Encounters Hiccup During Asteroid Sampling

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Henry Gerecke, Contributor

After a 4 year and over 200 million mile flight, NASA probe OSIRIS REx finally reached its destination: the gravelly asteroid Bennu.  But the mission didn’t go quite as planned.  During the 6 seconds of contact with the asteroid the collection arm vacuumed so much rock and dust that the door was jammed open.

What was supposed to be an autonomous process is now being manually performed by the team at NASA.  The sample will continue to leak into space until the storage procedure can be completed.  Sending or receiving communications has a delay of almost 20 minutes in each direction.  This part of the mission would require the team’s input with or without the error, and will take several days due to the communication latency.  Originally scheduled for November 2nd, the sample is now being secured as soon as possible to prevent further leakage.  

Even though the operation didn’t go as smoothly as hoped, the team at NASA is still confident OSIRIS will be able to return to Earth successfully.  “I’m proud of the OSIRIS-REx team’s amazing work and success to this point,” said NASA’s Associate Administrator for Science Thomas Zurbuchen. “This mission is well positioned to return a historic and substantial sample of an asteroid to Earth, and they’ve been doing all the right things, on an expedited timetable, to protect that precious cargo.”

The spacecraft still has a ways to go before it returns to Earth.  It will begin its trip in March of 2021, when the asteroid’s orbit allows for a faster and more fuel efficient flight home, and finally make its way back to Earth in September 2023.