OSIRIS-REx news

OSIRIS-REx spacecraft collects significant sample from asteroid Bennu

This series of 82 images was captured on during the OSIRIS-REx mission's TAG sample collection event. It shows the SamCam imager's field of view as the NASA spacecraft approaches and touches down on asteroid Bennu, at sample site Nightingale. The team on Earth received confirmation of successful touchdown at 6:08 p.m. EDT. Preliminary data shows the sampling head touched Bennu's surface for approximately six seconds, after which the spacecraft performed a back-away burn. (Credit: NASA)

Two days after touching down on asteroid Bennu on , NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission team received images that indicate the spacecraft collected more than enough material to meet one of its main mission requirements – acquiring at least 60 grams of the asteroid's surface material.

The spacecraft captured images of the sample collector head as it moved through several different positions. While reviewing those images, the OSIRIS-REx team noticed both that the head appeared to be full of asteroid particles, and that some of those particles appeared to be escaping slowly from the sample collector. They suspected that bits of material were passing through small gaps where a mylar flap – the collector's "lid" – was slightly wedged open by larger rocks.

To minimize loss and preserve the remaining material, the OSIRIS-REx team decided to stow the sample as quickly as possible. Doing so meant that the originally planned tests to measure the mass of the collected sample were cancelled.

After a successful stowing procedure, the sample is now in the Sample Return Capsule (SRC), where any loose material will be kept safe during the spacecraft's journey back to Earth. The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft remains in excellent health and is scheduled to return to Earth in .

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) contributed the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA) to the mission, a laser system able to scan the asteroid from up to seven kilometres away. Thanks to Canadian technical and scientific expertise, the instrument was used to scan the asteroid's surface to create high-resolution 3D maps that were crucial to help mission scientists select the best sample site. The CSA's contribution to the mission will allow Canada to receive a portion of the asteroid material.

The left image shows the OSIRIS-REx collector head hovering over the SRC after the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) arm moved it into the proper position for capture. The right image shows the collector head secured onto the capture ring in the SRC. Both images were captured by the StowCam camera. (Credits: NASA/Goddard/Université de l'Arizona/Lockheed Martin)

OSIRIS-REx is ready for its attempt to collect a sample from asteroid Bennu

This animation shows the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft deploying its Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) to collect a sample of regolith (loose rocks and dirt) from the surface of asteroid Bennu. The sample will be returned to Earth in . Scientists will study the sample for clues about the early solar system and the origins of life. (Credit: NASA/Goddard)

The time has come! On , NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will attempt to take a sample from near-Earth asteroid Bennu. The spacecraft will lower itself towards the surface and, without landing, extend its robotic arm to make contact with the surface of Bennu for about 10 seconds. During that time, it will release a burst of nitrogen gas that will cause dust and gravel to be stirred up, capturing 60 to 2,000 grams of material in the arm's sampling head.

Taking a closer look at this carbon-rich asteroid may help answer questions about how our solar system formed and how life on Earth may have begun. The mission marks the first time Canada is participating in an asteroid sample-return mission.

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) contributed the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA) to the mission, a laser system able to scan the asteroid from up to seven kilometres away. Thanks to Canadian technical and scientific expertise, the instrument allowed OSIRIS-REx to scan the asteroid's surface to create high-resolution 3D maps that were crucial to help mission scientists select the best sample site. In , four potential sample sites were identified by mission scientists. Nightingale was then chosen as the primary site.

The sample is scheduled to return to Earth in . Thanks to the CSA's contribution to the mission, Canada will receive a portion of the asteroid material. Watch special coverage about OSIRIS-REx and the sample collection on NASA TV starting at 5 p.m. ET on .

Overhead view of OSIRIS-REx at sample site Nightingale, with a parking lot for comparison. (Credit: NASA/Goddard/CI Lab/University of Arizona)

Canadian instrument on OSIRIS-REx took the most detailed 3D measurements of any celestial body ever explored

Canadian-built laser mapping system takes aim at an asteroid

An OLA scan that was taken over 5.5 minutes and contains 3,342,748 measurements. Shadows are in areas that were not visible from the perspective of OLA. (Credit: NASA/University of Arizona/Canadian Space Agency/York University/MDA)

In a detailed study published today, Canadian scientist Michael Daly (York University) and his team revealed that the data gathered by Canadian OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA) enabled new insights into near-Earth asteroid Bennu. The paper is part of a special collection on Bennu appearing today in Science and Science Advances.

On , NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will attempt to take a sample from Bennu in hopes of answering questions about how our solar system formed and how life on Earth may have begun. After a challenging process where scientists discovered that Bennu's surface was much more rugged than initially expected, a site named "Nightingale" was officially chosen as OSIRIS-REx's final target to collect a sample. Without measurements taken by the Canadian instrument OLA, the selection of a sample site would have been much more difficult. OLA scanned the asteroid's surface and took almost 3 billion individual measurements, spaced on average less than 5 cm apart, to create a 3D model of Bennu.

This "shape model" was also used to interpret Bennu's geological history and better understand some of the changes that have occurred on its surface over time, as Daly and his colleagues report in the paper. Specifically, at some point in Bennu's history, more large boulders accumulated in the southern hemisphere than in the north. Over time, these large boulders blocked the movement of finer surface material in the south, while fine material in the north moved more freely. As a result, Bennu's current shape is rounder and smoother in the south than it is in the north.

The OSIRIS-REx mission has been a unique opportunity for Canada to showcase its technical and scientific expertise. Thanks to the Canadian Space Agency's contribution to the mission, Canada will receive a portion of the returned sample when it comes back to Earth in , to be made available for study by Canadian scientists for generations to come.

Update on the status of OSIRIS-REx instrument OLA and mission operations

Canadian-built laser mapping system takes aim at an asteroid

Credit: NASA

This week, OSIRIS-REx continued Reconnaissance C phase operations. The mission team spent the week preparing for the Nightingale site 250-metre flyover, scheduled for .

The mission team has made the decision to use OLA's high-energy laser transmitter (HELT) to provide the ranging data to focus PolyCam during the flyover of site Nightingale. Canadian instrument OLA had successfully completed all tasks related to selecting Nightingale as the primary sample acquisition site. OLA consists of two laser subsystems: the HELT and the low-energy laser transmitter (LELT). OLA's LELT was originally scheduled to provide the ranging data.

However, as a result of the anomaly that occurred during the Reconnaissance B site Osprey flyover, the team has determined that the LELT system is no longer operable. Despite the LELT's condition, the HELT system has continued to operate as expected, and will be used to focus PolyCam for the remaining reconnaissance passes.

OLA has already completed all of its principal requirements for the OSIRIS-REx mission. OLA's scans of Bennu's surface were used to create the high-resolution 3D global maps of Bennu's topography that were crucial for selecting the primary and backup sample collection sites last fall.

Information regarding an anomaly for Canadian OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter

OSIRIS-REx

Credit: NASA/Goddard

On NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft safely executed a flyover of the backup sample collection site Osprey as part of the mission's activities. Preliminary telemetry, however, indicates that the Canadian OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA) did not operate as expected during the 11-hour event.

OLA had successfully completed all tasks related to selecting Nightingale as the primary sample acquisition site. Last year OLA also scanned the asteroid's surface to create high-resolution 3D maps that were crucial to help mission scientists select the best sample site.

The other science instruments all performed nominally during the flyover. These instruments and the spacecraft continue their normal operations in orbit around asteroid Bennu.

The mission team is currently reviewing the available data from the flyover in order to fully assess the OLA instrument. The entire data set from the flyover, including the PolyCam images, will be completely downlinked from the spacecraft next week and will provide additional insight into any impact that the loss of the OLA data may have.

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