NASA Says Taking Sample From Asteroid Harder Than Expected

Rodiano Bonacci
Marzo 20, 2019

The object of an ambitious effort to touch the surface of a massive rock hurtling through space and retrieve a sample of it to bring back to Earth, Asteroid Bennu was supposed to have a smooth surface.

Ryugu, which was first discovered by USA scientists in 1999, is a 3,000-foot-wide asteroid that is thought to have broken off of a larger parent body.

There are lots of interesting results-and some potential unforeseen challenges when it comes to collecting a sample. At this stage, the safety of the spacecraft is an excessive priority for JAXA and, whereas researchers would love a mannequin from all through the asteroid, a go-ahead for the contact-and-go sample assortment will depend on their being a protected place for the probe to return down. "Is there a solid body underneath or is it like another near-Earth asteroid Itokawa - just a rubble pile?"

"We feel confident that our systems and teams are up to the task of [touch-and-go-sampling] a collection site that was smaller than previously", Rich Burns, OSIRIS-REx project manager, said during a NASA media conference.

"It's far dryer than we expected, and given Ryugu is quite young (by asteroid standards) at around 100 million years old, this suggests its parent body was much largely devoid of water too", Sugita added.

The finding is significant, he said, because of all of Earth's water is thought to have come came from local asteroids, distant comets and the nebula or dust cloud that became our sun.

The Japanese space agency, JAXA, research has also benefited from cooperation with NASA, which has its own probe, OSIRIS-REx, exploring a different asteroid known as Bennu.

It also means the team can rework the surface model that predicted Bennu would be relatively boulder-free with new data that will hopefully lead to more accurate future modelling.

Lauretta called the repeated outbursts "one of the biggest surprises of my scientific career".

Another surprise Bennu had been withholding was that it emits particles which fall back to the surface like rain.

Those heterogeneously-sized rocks could prove problematic to the mission, however.

NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has spotted something that hasn't been seen up close on an asteroid before: plumes of particles erupting into space.

Hayabusa2's first sample strive was reasonably straightforward, with the spacecraft dropping down near the rock's ground, firing a small projectile, after which capturing a variety of the particles kicked up by the impact.

That means that instead of being alright with any spot within the 25 meter radius, the flight navigators will need to try and hit the center of it. None, however, appear more exciting than the discovery of particle plumes. And she was "at the edge of her seat" thinking about whether the sample would contain organic molecules, and if so, what kind.

The sample OSIRIS-REx is due to collect could reveal more - but it's proving a bit harder to grab than initially thought.

The plumes don't pose a risk to OSIRIS-REx - but that's about all we know about them (aside from the indication that maybe asteroids are much more active than we thought).

The spacecraft's "Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism", or TAGSAM, features a 10-foot-long robot arm with a pie-pan-shaped sample collector on the far end that will be extended until it gently contacts Bennu's surface at about two tenths of a mile per hour.

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