NASA's courageous asteroid mission has been developing its sampling arm for the first time

This shot, taken on Wednesday, shows the sampling head of the OSIRIS-REx Touch-and-Go Sampling Head, sampled from the space probe at the end of the robot arm.
Magnify / This shot, taken on Wednesday, shows the sampling head of the OSIRIS-REx Touch-and-Go Sampling Head, sampled from the space probe at the end of the robot arm.


NASA officials on Friday confirmed that the test of the core component of the mission of the space agency to the asteroid sample was successfully completed. On Wednesday, for the first time in more than two years, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft developed its robotic arm and carried out a number of maneuvers to ensure its space capability after being packed for a start and a long flight to the asteroid Benna.

The asteroid sampling mission was launched in September 2016, and the spaceship has since traveled through space to reach an asteroid known as Benna, which is about 500 meters in diameter. The spacecraft officially arrives at Benna roughly in two weeks, December 3, so mission scientists wanted to make sure that the robotic hand was operational after it had been stored for so long.

This hand and its sampling head, known as the Touch-and-Go Sampling Acquisition Mechanism or TAGSAM, is critical to the mission's goal of gaining at least 60 grams of material from Bennu's surface and returning this sample to Earth by 2023. The collection device will function as a reverse vacuum cleaner .

NASA has never tried it before – a maneuver in which the shoulder will be placed on the surface of the asteroid. "TAGSAM is the size of the old air filter in the car," explains Beau Bierhaus, a Lockheed Martin scientist who runs the TAGSAM operation and is the co-researcher on OSIRIS-REx. Lockheed Martin built a spacecraft for NASA and one of its engineers created the TAGSAM mechanism.

During the pickup maneuver, an explosion of compressed gaseous nitrogen will be sent from the spacecraft to the surface of the asteroid. TAGSAM then collects impurities and dust particles that are fired with nitrogen gas and stores them in a special container while allowing gas to escape. When testing for microgravity and vacuum chamber, a withdrawal arm of 400 to 500 grams was taken in most experiments.

This sampling maneuver will take place until July 2020. Until then, OSIRIS-REx will study the asteroid to detail the topology of space rock to a greater resolution than even the Earth's surface. The Benna map will be 5 cm in size and a few centimeters vertical, said Bierhaus Ars.

This spacecraft will receive this detailed map over the next 18 months, with a preliminary survey that will bring OSIRIS-REx to a distance of about 7 km from the surface of the asteroid, and then two orbital phases that will bring it within about 750 meters of the surface. From there, there will be time for final site selections and selection tests. Scientists will have the word as to the most interesting place to sample, but the other criteria are higher, including the availability and ability to keep the spacecraft safe while accessing Benno.

NASA has only a few samples from other worlds in its collections. There are his moonstones, collected during the Apollo missions, of course. It also has bits of interstellar dust and cometary material. The Soviet Union flew in the 1970s with three robotic landing machines that gained several hundred grams of Moon Rocks, and the Japanese Space Program released two asteroid return missions.

So this is not easy. Ensure that the long sleeping arm can flexibly mate is the first good step.

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