The OSIRIS-REx interplanetary station sent a series of images taken by the SamCam camera during the first operation of soil sampling from the near-Earth asteroid Bennu, reported in a NASA press release.

The automatic interplanetary station OSIRIS-REx was launched in September 2016 and is designed to study a near-earth asteroid (101955) Bennu… On December 3, 2018, the station arrived at the asteroid and entered a stable orbit around it. The two-year scientific program for remote sensing of the asteroid has led to many important discoveries, including the detection of signs of water. The main goal of the mission (in total it will last about seven years) is to take a soil sample from Bennu’s surface and deliver it to Earth. To do this, the station has TAGSAM (Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism), a 3.35-meter robotic arm for taking soil samples from an asteroid.

On October 20, 2020, OSIRIS-REx was able to successfully complete the first sampling attempt from Bennu (this was confirmed by telemetry data transmitted to Earth). During contact with the surface of the asteroid in the “Nightingale” area, the station blasted the working area with a stream of nitrogen in order to collect dust and rock fragments that had risen from the surface, after which it flew away from the asteroid to a safe distance.

A video of the station’s descent to the asteroid’s surface, touchdown, and departure was edited out of 82 frames taken by the SamCam camera during the first sampling procedure. All of these images were taken in about a five minute period. The first shot in the series was captured at a height of 25 meters above the surface, and the last one at a height of 13 meters (approximately 35 seconds after departure). The interval between pictures is 1.25 sec.

The video shows the moment the TAGSAM tool touches the surface, as well as many rock fragments of different sizes.

Video of the day: OSIRIS-REx takes soil from the near-Earth asteroid Bennu
The moment the TAGSAM instrument touches the surface of the asteroid Bennu.

The sink rate was reported to be 0.2 mph (10 cm / sec) immediately prior to contact and 0.9 mph (40 cm / sec) at the time of rebound.

Analysis of the transmitted telemetry showed that the operation was successful and the station was not damaged.

On October 24, the station will rotate on its own axis to determine the mass of the substance collected from Bennu. If it is less than 60 grams, then the station will make another attempt in January 2021. If the station succeeds the first time, then the sample will be placed in the returned capsule. According to the plan, OSIRIS-REx will have to leave orbit around Bennu in mid-2021 and deliver a capsule with soil to Earth on September 24, 2023.

By the way, the target 60 grams is the largest sample of matter collected from another celestial body since the Apollo program.

  • (101955) Bennu – A 500-meter diamond-shaped near-Earth asteroid from the Apollo group, which was discovered in 2013 and named after a bird from ancient Egyptian mythology. It has an average density of about 1190 kg / m3, belongs to the spectral carbon asteroids class B.
  • These asteroids contain the original building material from which the solar system was formed. Scientists expect the mission to shed light on the role of asteroids in the origins of life on Earth. According to one version, life on a young earth was bornas the asteroids brought organic compounds and water onto it.
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