Two troublesome screws disrupt NASA's billion-dollar asteroid mission

27.10.2023 posted by Admin

NASA's sample extraction challenge. Bennu's secrets locked

"Houston, we have a problem" – scientists are having a tough time trying to open the lid on the sample capsule from the Bennu asteroid.

Even though NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission successfully transported valuable space dust over 200 million miles, they're stuck due to a lack of appropriate tools.

The space agency reported that "after numerous attempts to remove it, the team found out that two of the 35 fasteners on the TAGSAM (Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism) head couldn't be loosened using the tools meant for the OSIRIS-REx glovebox."

All handling of the sample, including work on the TAGSAM head, is carried out inside a specialized glovebox, where a continuous flow of nitrogen protects it from Earth's atmosphere. This is done to preserve the sample's pristine condition for future scientific study.

Scientists at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston are currently grappling with how to access the valuable rocks and dust inside the capsule using tools suitable for the glovebox environment.

"Nasa is working diligently to devise and implement innovative techniques for extracting the material inside the head, while ensuring the sample remains unspoiled," explained NASA.

Any tools or procedures used to extract the remaining materials must fit inside the glovebox and maintain the scientific integrity of the collection. They must also meet the clean room's rigorous standards.

The team responsible for handling the Bennu sample has already managed to retrieve 70.3 grams of rocks and dust from the sampler hardware, exceeding NASA's initial target of 60 grams.

Regarding the trapped sample, they mentioned, "The great news is that there's still more of NASA's OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security–Regolith Explorer) sample to be gathered."

The material processed thus far includes rocks and dust found outside the sampler head, along with a portion of the bulk sample from inside the head, which was accessed through the head's mylar flap.

Once the fastener problem is resolved, the remaining material inside the sampler head, or TAGSAM, will be removed, adding to the overall mass.

As an initial step, the team successfully accessed some of the material by holding the head's mylar flap down and removing the sample inside using tweezers or a scoop, depending on the material's size.

By employing this method along with the earlier collection of material outside the head, they managed to surpass the 60-gram requirement.

Over the next few weeks, the team will work on developing and practicing a new procedure to retrieve the remaining asteroid sample from the TAGSAM sampler head while concurrently processing the material collected this week.

The OSIRIS-REx science team will proceed with their plans to characterize the extracted material and initiate analysis of the bulk sample obtained so far.

While they work on the procedure to access the last part of the material, the team has temporarily removed the TAGSAM head from the continuous flow of nitrogen in the glovebox. It's now safely stored in its transfer container, sealed with an O-ring and surrounded by a sealed Teflon bag to ensure the sample remains protected in a stable, nitrogen-rich environment.
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