Thursday brought a bit of good news for the science community as NASA announced that robotic spacecraft Osiris-Rex was successfully able to contain the leakage of the rock and dust sample that it collected from the asteroid Bennu.
The leakage started to happen after a flap was wedged open. This put the whole mission at risk the dust samples began to leak out into the void of outer space.
“We are here to announce today that we’ve successfully completed that operation,” said Rich Burns, the mission’s project manager.
The probe is currently on a mission to collect fragments from the asteroid Bennu. The scientists at NASA are hoping that the samples will help in unraveling the origin story of our solar system. However, the mission hit a hurdle the piece of sample that the robotic spacecraft picked up proved to be too big.
The fragments, which were inside a collector at the end of the probe’s three-meter (10-foot) arm, had started to slowly leak into the void of space. This happened because some rocks prevented the compartment from closing completely.
On Thursday, NASA announced that it was able to manoeuvre the robotic arm, which was holding the leaking particles, to a storage capsule that was near the centre of the spacecraft. The scientists were able to drop off the sample and close the capsule’s lid.
The probe is estimated to be around 200 million miles away. Thus, it takes 18.5 minutes for each transmission to reach Earth. The subsequent signals from the control room also require the same amount of time to reach the robotic spacecraft.
“My heart breaks for loss of sample,” said Dante Lauretta, the mission’s chief scientist, but he noted that they had successfully stowed hundreds of grams (several ounces) of fragments, far in excess of their minimum goal.
“Now we can look forward to receiving the sample here on Earth and opening up that capsule,” he said.
Osiris-Rex is scheduled to come home in September 2023. If this mission succeeds, the robotic spacecraft will be returning with the largest sample returned from space since the Apollo era.