Some of the sample leaks into space, according to Dante Loretta, principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona in Tucson during a NASA press conference on Friday.
“The biggest concern now is that particles are leaking out because we are almost a victim of our success,” he said. “The big particles left the flap open. The particles spread out in space. They don’t move fast, but they are nonetheless valuable scientific material.”
The mission team analyzed photos taken on Thursday of the collector’s head for the spacecraft that showed that a large sample was collected – but there is so much material in the head that the cap designed to hold the sample inside is jammed.
This allows particles to escape into space. The mission team is changing the course of planned events for the spacecraft this weekend, and plans to store the sample as quickly as possible so that little material is lost. Researchers have estimated that it consistently loses between 5 and 10 grams of the substance. This unstable matter floats in what looks like a cloud of particles around the head.
But the team is not sure of the exact loss rate as it is not static.
The mission was required to collect at least 2 ounces, or 60 grams, of the asteroid’s surface material. Based on the images they analyzed, the researchers are confident that the head of the complex at the end of the spacecraft’s robotic arm has already captured 400 grams of material. And that’s just what he sees them from the camera’s perspective.
But the particles seep through small gaps where the Mylar flap, or cap, is at least one centimeter open by the larger rocks. The spacecraft’s planned activities this weekend may cause more samples to be lost due to motion.
Previously, Osiris Rex was expected to burn the throttle on Friday and measure the mass of the sample on Saturday. Although 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 to keep up with our success here,” said Loretta, “and my job is to safely return the largest possible sample of Benno.” “The loss of mass is of concern to me, so I strongly encourage the team to stock up on this valuable sample as quickly as possible.”
The team will undergo another evaluation process this weekend to ensure that the sample head can be stored in the sample return capsule by Tuesday to protect bulk materials and keep the valuable shipment safe until it can return to Earth.
The sample header is too full due to how unexpectedly the cluster event happened on Tuesday.
The head of the mosque made a live call during the event on Tuesday – then some of them. Over the course of six seconds when it touched its head, it sank 5 cm into the asteroid’s surface. When the compressed nitrogen gas bottle, designed to lift the material from the surface, was released, the head sank an additional 24 to 48 cm in the surface material.
There is no way to close the flap, Loretta said. Although the team is unsure of the strength of the rocks keeping it open, it has to be strong and within the size limits of what can travel to the assembly head, he said.
This is not something the team faced in their test campaign prior to launching the mission – which involved large rocks and a sample collection head buried with the asteroid’s surface materials. But the researchers did not test the sample head at the depth that they thought it had already reached on the asteroid.
“Benno continues to surprise us with great science and also throwing some curved balls,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s assistant director for the Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington.
“Although we may have to move more quickly to store the sample, it’s not a bad problem. We are very excited to see what appears to be an abundant sample that will inspire science for decades after this historic moment.”
Regardless of when the sample is stored within the next week, the spacecraft will not begin its journey 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 home. .
The team said the spacecraft was “still in good health” to return to Earth.