How NASA prepared to sample the asteroid landing in the desert |  CNN

How NASA prepared to sample the asteroid landing in the desert | CNN

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A sample of an asteroid placed inside a NASA spacecraft is about to reach Earth after a nearly 2½-year journey through space.

It is the first time NASA has collected and returned an asteroid sample to space.

Along with the previously returned sample of asteroid Ryugu from Japan’s Hayabusa2 mission, the rocks and soil may reveal insights about the beginnings of our solar system.

Instead of landing, the OSIRIS-REx mission will drop a sample of rock and soil and continue its journey to study another asteroid.

The teams were practicing how to retrieve the sample, originally collected from the Earth asteroid Bennu, when it landed in the Utah desert on September 24.

OSIRIS-REx is estimated to have collected up to 8.8 ounces, or about 1 cup, of material from Bennu.

NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

Bennu is a cluster of asteroids shaped like a rotating sphere, made of rocks held together by gravity. It is about a third of a mile (500 meters) wide.

“We’re just a few weeks away from getting a piece of solar system history back to Earth, and this successful test proves we’re ready,” said Nicola Fox, associate director of NASA’s Science Mission Administration, in a statement. “Complex objects from the asteroid Bennu will help shed light on the formation of our planet 4.5 billion years ago, and perhaps how life on Earth began.”

It’s not every day that a spacecraft launches a capsule carrying a sample of a rare asteroid above a planet and aims to deliver it safely to a landing site.

Years of hard work by thousands of people led to the moment when a sample of Bennu arrived on Earth.

During the spring and summer, the teams practiced retrieving the sample and ran through all the conditions, good and bad, that could occur on reentry day.

Keegan Barber/NASA

The capsule will be housed at the Utah Department of Defense and Training Facility.

The main objective of the mission was to obtain a clean asteroid sample. But if the capsule breaks – the lands and pops are open, the sample can be contaminated.

“I am very proud of the effort our team has put into this effort,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona in Tucson, in a statement. “As our strategic planning and practice prepared us for sample collection in Bennu, we improved our sample retrieval skills.”

OSIRIS-REx, which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer, is NASA’s first asteroid sample return. The spaceship was on a seven-year journey. After launching in 2016, OSIRIS-REx began orbiting Bennu in 2018, collected a sample in 2020 and set off on its long journey back to Earth in May 2021.

Since leaving Bennu, the spacecraft has circled the sun twice to be on track to rendezvous with Earth.

In July, the mission team sent a sequence of instructions to help the spacecraft target the landing capsule to the Utah Department of Defense and Training Center outside Salt Lake City.

On September 24, NASA will provide a live stream of the sample being delivered to Earth. The live stream will begin at 10 am ET, and the capsule containing the sample will enter the Earth’s atmosphere at 10:42 am ET, traveling at about 27,650 kilometers per hour (44,498 kilometers per hour).

Four hours before the capsule’s atmospheric entry, the mission team will decide whether to send a command to the spacecraft to release the capsule, said Rich Burns, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt. , Maryland.

Keegan Barber/NASA

The training model of the capsule recovery sample appears during the drop test. Parachutes will slow the capsule’s descent.

The decision depends on the trajectory of the spacecraft, which determines the safety of the people in the landing area, the ability of the capsule to escape the angle, the temperature of the re-entry, and the accuracy of the landing. The capsule will be ejected when OSIRIS-REx is 63,000 kilometers (102,000 miles) from Earth, heading for an area covering 250 kilometers (647.5 miles) — “the equivalent of throwing a dart the length of a basketball court and hitting a tightrope.” . Bullshit,” Burns said.

Once the capsule is released, OSIRIS-REx will perform a divert maneuver that puts it on a path around the sun as it targets another asteroid, Apophis, for a rendezvous in 2029, Burns said.

Entering the Earth’s atmosphere would cause the capsule to be engulfed in a superheated fireball, but the container’s heat shield would protect the sample inside.

Parachutes will be deployed to slow the capsule down to a minimum of 11 kilometers per hour (17.7 kilometers per hour), and recovery teams will stand by to retrieve the capsule when it is safe to do so, said Sandra Freund, OSIRIS-REx. Program manager at Lockheed Martin Space, working with NASA to build the spacecraft, provide flight operations and help recover the capsule.

Arrival is expected 13 minutes after the capsule enters the Earth’s atmosphere.

Keegan Barber/NASA

Recovery teams participate in helicopter training to recover the sample and transport it to a temporary cleanup area.

A helicopter will carry a sample from the cargo net and deliver it to a temporary refinery set up in June. There, the team will prepare a sample container for transport on a C-17 aircraft at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston on September 25. Details about the sample will be revealed to the public through NASA’s Johnson broadcast on October 11.

The NASA and Lockheed Martin Space teams have been coordinating all possible steps to prepare for delivery day, Freund said.

Recently, the team used an airplane to drop a sample, collect it and prepare it for transport.

Molly Wasser/NASA

The OSIRIS-REx team held a final rehearsal on August 30, dropping the mock-up capsule from 7,000 feet above the ground by helicopter. Infrared, radar and optical instruments on the ground and in the aircraft are trained to track the capsule’s descent.

It also worked through challenging situations from the command center, such as where to do if the spacecraft restarts, how to get it out of safe mode, and how to transfer communications between different centers in the event of a network failure.

The team prepared for various landing scenarios, such as a hard landing where the capsule containing the sample opens unexpectedly. The team will then assess whether any samples can be saved.

Another possibility is that the spacecraft may not be able to release the sample on Sept. 24 if a mid-range landing is not possible, Burns said. In that case, the sample will remain on board, and the orbit of the spacecraft will bring the capsule. returned by Earth to attempt another launch over Utah in 2025.

The Johnson Space Center has a history of storing, handling and analyzing extraterrestrial materials, including lunar samples from the Apollo missions. “NASA has been working on creating a special Johnson spot to sample Bennu for years,” said Kevin Righter, OSIRIS-REx deputy director.

A dedicated cleanup room will prevent any possible contamination and other accumulations as scientists analyze the soil and rocks over the next two years. Some of the material will be smaller than a grain of sand, Christopher Snead, particle-particle handling lead and OSIRIS-REx deputy curator of Johnson.

“We’ve been developing custom tools to carefully handle these precious particles inside our glove boxes,” Snead said in a statement, referring to boxes that handle hazardous or extraterrestrial substances.


Researchers will use glove boxes in a new cleanup room at NASA’s Johnson Space Center to carefully handle the sample.

The sample will reveal information about the formation and history of our solar system and the role of asteroids in helping to develop habitable planets like Earth. Scientists believe that asteroids like Bennu crashed into Earth early in their formation, delivering water-like materials.

The sample will be separated and sent to laboratories around the world, including OSIRIS-REx mission partners at the Canadian Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. About 70% of the sample will remain clean in storage so that future generations with better technology can study even more than is possible now.

“The asteroids we have in our solar system today are left over from the early stages of the sun’s history,” said Lauretta. “We’re literally looking at geological things that were created before the Earth existed. I call these the grandfather stones, the ones that truly represent our origins and where we come from. This is a gift to the world.”

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