The first pictures from the OSIRIS-REx probe’s brief touchdown on the asteroid Bennu have boosted scientists’ confidence that they’ll be getting a good sample of out-of-this-world dust and gravel when the spacecraft swings back to Earth.
“We really did kind of make a mess on this asteroid, but it’s a good mess,” the University of Arizona’s Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for the $800 million NASA mission, said today during a news briefing at which the imagery was released.
The image sequence shows OSIRIS-REx’s arm smashing a foot-wide, circular sample collection head — known as the Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism, or TAGSAM — down into Bennu’s crumbly surface. The impact, and a well-timed blast of nitrogen gas, could be seen sending bits of material flying into space.
Based on an analysis of the images, the collection head penetrated about an inch (2 centimeters) beneath the surface, Lauretta said. The collection head was designed to snare some of the material that was ejected during the touch-and-go. Researchers concluded that the probe’s performance during the 15-second maneuver was “as good as we could have imagined,” Lauretta said.
That’s good news for OSIRIS-REx’s scientists and engineers, who have been tasked with bringing back at ...