Before returning to Earth, OSIRIS-REx will make a near-final approach to the asteroid


Next week, NASA‘s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft would make ultimate close proximity to the asteroid from which it obtained samples before returning to Earth. On April 7, the spacecraft will travel 3.7 kilometers above the Nightingale, a position on the asteroid Bennu where the spaceship momentarily touched down in October and obtained multiple hundred grams of material, which will now be deposited in the spacecraft.

The mission had no intention to return to Bennu’s vicinity after the sample selection maneuver. However, NASA wanted to fly over the landing site one more time to see what effects the sampling had on the Nightingale area, such as the formation of a crater. “We sat down and performed a risk evaluation, and we concluded it was a really low-risk scenario with a strong research return. So, we’re going back to check at the site to see how we can find out what the crater is,” Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-principal REx’s investigator at the University of Arizona stated during a virtual presentation about the project on March 17 at the 52nd Lunar and Planetary Sciences Conference.

He estimated that the site would have five craters, one formed by the sampling process and the other four created by thrusters on the spaceship that shot to slow the spacecraft’s fall and drag it away from the Earth. “From all of the contact with the surface, there should also be five, or any sort of cloverleaf pattern,” he added. According to analysis, data obtained on October 20 by a sampling system at the end of the robotic arm extending from the spacecraft’s bottom went further into the soil than anticipated. Before the spacecraft started descending and began ascending, the sampling head reached a depth of 48.8 centimeters below the surface.

He stated, “The surface was not dragging us down at all.” “We actually would have fallen in meters into the crust of this asteroid if we hadn’t launched the back-away thrusters, which is interesting to consider.” Photos were taken shortly after the sample processing maneuver exposed fluid leakage from the sampling head. As a result, the mission’s attempts to stow the sample collection device in a capsule that will store it on the return trip to Earth is accelerated. “From the moment we gathered it before we stowed it, we probably lost tens of grams of sample,” Lauretta said. “We’re also optimistic that there’s a significant volume of content in the return capsule waiting to be returned.”
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