Osiris-Rex: Captured Asteroid Samples Have Escaped Into Space

Osiris-Rex: captured asteroid samples have escaped into space


A few days ago, the OSIRIS-REx probe landed successfully on the asteroid Bennu in an attempt to collect some rock and dust. According to NASA, the sampling head was so full that it could not close properly. The result: matter escaped into space.

You probably didn’t miss it. On October 21, four years after its launch from Cape Canaveral (Florida), the US probe OSIRIS-REX landed on the asteroid Bennu more than 330 million kilometers from Earth. The idea was to collect at least sixty grams of the sample in order to bring them back to Earth. With that in mind, the ship slowly spiraled downward before “kissing” the asteroid’s surface for about six seconds, deploying its sample-taking mechanism.

During this brief landing, the probe detonated some nitrogen gas on Bennu’s surface in an attempt to lift up some material, which was then collected by the arm’s sample head. At more than 300 million kilometers away, NASA, on the other hand, had to wait a few days before being able to confirm or not the success of the operation.

Small technical problem, but real success
According to a recent press release from the US agency, Osiris-Rex actually collected much more material than expected (several hundred grams). On the other hand, the sampling head would have penetrated so deeply into the surface of the asteroid (48 centimeters) and with such force that certain rocks got stuck on the edge of the “cover”.

The result: matter escaped into space. Nevertheless, NASA prefers to drink the glass half full: the mission is a real success. However, it will not be known exactly how much material the probe collected before returning to Earth. Indeed, given the rate of escape of these samples, NASA preferred to “skip the weighing step” and put the samples directly into the shelter.

Return of Osiris-Rex in 2023
Osiris-Rex will still leave the asteroid’s vicinity next March before returning to Earth on September 24, 2023, to deposit his samples in the desert of Utah, United States. The material, virtually unchanged for 4.6 billion years, will then be studied by scientists around the world. We could then learn more about the formation of the Solar System. These samples could also contain ingredients that may have led to the evolution of life on Earth.

Finally, remember that the Japanese probe Hayabusa2 also landed on an asteroid a few months ago (Ryugu) in order to collect samples. The latter should usually land in Australia on December 6.