(ORDO NEWS) — This is an annoying example of the saying “I bit off more than I could swallow.” Now not all valuable rocks from the asteroid will reach the Earth.
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx exploration vehicle did its job too well. He was sent to the asteroid Bennu, flying over 320 million kilometers from us, to take samples and return them to Earth. The craft’s robotic arm grabbed too much material from the asteroid’s surface, causing the storage compartment cover to jam. Now samples of the asteroid’s material are slowly flying off into space.
“We are victims of our own success,” says Dante Lauretta, Principal Investigator for the OSIRIS-REx Mission, of the University of Arizona (USA).
OSIRIS-REx’s mission is to deliver samples of asteroid material to Earth for scientists to study in the laboratory. But since OSIRIS-REx “bit off more than it could swallow,” scientists and technicians are now trying to figure out how to close the storage hatch so that the ship doesn’t lose too much valuable material on its way home.
The published footage shows that the hatch is slightly open a centimeter and tiny particles of the asteroid hover in space next to the vehicle.
The good news is that OSIRIS-REx seems to have taken up a lot more material than it needed. The scientists wanted to collect 60 grams of the rock, and images from the spacecraft show that OSIRIS-REx apparently captured about 400 grams. These are stones of different sizes, and some of them are so large that they do not allow the spacecraft’s hatch to close.
Engineers believe stones are flying out of storage too quickly. For example, yesterday they estimated that between 1 and 10 grams of material was lost. This happened due to attempts to move the manipulator of the hatch so that it closed. Attempts will be made over and over again: it is better to save at least something than to wait until all the materials disappear in the darkness of space or burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere upon landing.
“I am absolutely sure that everything will be successful – we have over 60 grams of material that we promised Thomas and the agency, and we will deliver it,” said Lauretta.
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