After a few days of effort, NASA has confirmed that its OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has secured its Bennu asteroid sample payload, meaning that scientists will eventually get their hands on a pure few ounces of asteroid regolith. The news follows NASA’s statement that though the Bennu touchdown and sampling event had been a success, some of the sampled material was leaking from a gap in the collection vessel.
Earlier this month, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft performed its first attempted asteroid touchdown, one that was successful and resulted in the collection of regolith. This sample is, as far as NASA can tell at this point in time, sufficient and may be quite plentiful, exceeding the minimum amount the space agency aimed for.
However, soon after the spacecraft returned to its orbit and started the process that will eventually bring it home, NASA reported that some bits of debris were escaping through a small gap in the collection vessel, one that was caused by a stuck rock that was keeping it open.
This wasn’t necessarily a problem, NASA noted, explaining that the sample was thought to be large and that it was working to stow the material, preserving as much as possible for scientists to study. In an update today, October 29, NASA says that the Bennu material has been successfully secured.
The regolith is contained in the Sample Return Capsule (SRC), which was closed using commands sent by NASA on October 28. The stowage process ultimately took two days and required the OSIRIS-REx team to work ‘around the clock,’ according to NASA, which says that the unique nature of this particular mission meant that someone had to be monitoring things at all times.