NASA: Explosion During Touchdown Operation on Bennu’s Surface

Recently, NASA announced surprising news about their spacecraft, Osiris-Rex, traveling in space. This spacecraft was designed to chase asteroids in space.  It has a Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) arm that can collect the required samples. This spacecraft successfully touched down on the Bennu asteroid. They collected samples that can help NASA scientists study the origin of the planets and how Earth was formed and the existence of life on this planet.

This mission’s lead scientist, Dante Lauretta from the University of Arizona, revealed the news about this successful touchdown three days later. This Friday, the team reported that the spacecraft had traveled over 200 million miles that took it four years to land on Bennu. On Wednesday, they shared the landing pictures on Twitter and revealed the explosion on the robot’s arm while collecting samples from the Bennu asteroid.

On Tuesday, NASA TV reported that Osiris-Rex’s sampling arm TAGSAM successfully touched on Bennu. After a brief contact of about 6 seconds, its arm exploded. The scientists involved in this mission planned that the contact between TAGSAM and the asteroid would last for about 16 seconds. But after the release of preliminary data, they realized that the contact was for 6 seconds only. Out of those 6 seconds, the samples had been collected within the first 3 seconds only.

The explosion occurred mainly due to miscommunication. The Osiris-Rex spacecraft operates autonomously, but due to 18 minutes of communication delay with the scientists, it shot a canister full of gas on Bennu via its TAGSAM. This gas disrupted Bennu’s black and rough terrain, causing the explosion to happen on the spacecraft’s arms.

The sample container on the robot’s arm penetrated forcefully and deeply into the asteroid in a way that the rocks sucked in and squeezed on the rim. The pictures clicked on Thursday revealed that a fair amount of samples got collected within the brief amount of contact between the robot and Bennu. But with the explosion and squeezing, the samples failed to get inside the robot’s collection. The explosion also caused the container’s seal to open, which lead some particles and dust from the asteroid to fly and spread into space. The pictures clicked on 22nd October confirms this information.

Loss of Actual Data and Samples

After Osiris-Rex spent two years orbiting Bennu asteroids, scientists realized that the world is bigger than they realized and expected. The scientists involved in the mission expected to find sandy surfaces that would have been ideal for research, but Bennu turned out to be full of rubbles, rough and black terrains, which is difficult to learn or understand.

NASA shared the first images on Twitter 24 hours after the operation took place. The photos also showed that the explosion took away some dust, debris, and minor samples of Bennu’s surface. Osiris-Rex’s robotic arm, TAGSAM, was inching closer to Bennu at the rate of 10cm per second (approximately). However, the scientists and the research team require about 60gms of samples from the surface of Bennu. There is no confirmation about the quantity of samples the spacecraft could collect. But according to the pictures, scientists believe that the collection they saw (on photos) seemed to be enough for their study.

The research team seems happy about the collection also because Osiris-Rex was designed to land only on a flat surface. But it touched down on the uneven and rocky surface of Bennu, captured the images, and collected the samples successfully. However, the samples wouldn’t reach Earth until 2023. The spaceship will take its time to reach our planet, and it is expected to land in the Utah desert on 23rd September.

Source: NASA: Explosion During Touchdown Operation on Bennu’s Surface

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