Advancements in Deep Space Research: NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Nears Significant Unveiling of Asteroid Sample

by Manuel Costa
OSIRIS-REx mission

Members of the OSIRIS-REx sample curation team at NASA’s Johnson Space Center have initiated the procedure to detach and invert the TAGSAM (Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism) from its location on the science canister’s avionics deck. Image Credit: NASA/James Blair

The team responsible for curating astromaterials at NASA’s Johnson Space Center persists in gathering the supplementary particles from asteroid Bennu that are situated outside of the TAGSAM head on the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. Alongside this, they have made further progress in the disassembling process and are nearing the disclosure of the primary asteroid sample contained within the TAGSAM head.

Examination of Witness Plates and TAGSAM Head

During the initial days of the week, the curation scientists detached 14 round witness plates from the apex of the TAGSAM head. These plates served the function of tracking the internal environmental conditions of the spacecraft throughout different phases of the mission and were meticulously secured and archived for data on potential contamination.

Post the removal of all 14 plates and the accumulation of any residual particulate matter, the team proceeded to take off the TAGSAM head from its position on the avionics deck. This action provided them with their inaugural look at the 24 surface contact pads located on the underside of the head, as well as the captured asteroid sample beneath the collection head.

An artist’s depiction illustrates the OSIRIS-REx (Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security – Regolith Explorer) spacecraft making contact with asteroid Bennu through its Touch-And-Go Sample Arm Mechanism, abbreviated as TAGSAM. The mission has successfully conveyed a sample of the surface material of Bennu back to Earth for academic investigation. Credit: NASA

Disclosure of Asteroid Components

When the sample collection device made contact with the asteroid in October of 2020, these surface contact pads entrapped fine particles and dust directly from the topmost layer of Bennu. The substance captured in these pads will offer an unparalleled set of samples that will inform researchers about conditions existing on Bennu’s immediate surface.

Material that resides both on and within the capture ring—the stable foundation where the TAGSAM was positioned when not in use—originates from the sampling event. During the collection phase, nitrogen gas was expelled from the TAGSAM onto Bennu, propelling asteroid particles from depths of up to 19 inches (approximately 50 cm) to enter into the TAGSAM head. These particles would be secured by a closing flap, and any particles keeping this flap ajar would drop into the region within the capture ring.

Academic Relevance of the Acquired Samples

The two diverse sets of materials collected will furnish scientists with valuable data concerning both the surface and deeper layers of the asteroid. Collectively, these minutely-grained samples will significantly contribute to advancing our understanding of asteroid Bennu’s geological history, its collisional past, and what this entails for the evaluation of asteroid impact risks.

Scheduled for public release at a live NASA event at 11 a.m. EDT on Wednesday, October 11, are images of the primary sample along with preliminary results of its analysis.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about OSIRIS-REx mission

What is the OSIRIS-REx mission?

The OSIRIS-REx mission, which stands for “Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security – Regolith Explorer,” is a NASA spacecraft mission designed to study and collect samples from the asteroid Bennu.

What is TAGSAM?

TAGSAM, short for “Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism,” is a critical component of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. It’s responsible for making contact with the asteroid’s surface and collecting samples of material.

What are “witness plates”?

Witness plates are circular plates attached to the TAGSAM head. They serve to monitor the internal environmental conditions of the spacecraft during its mission and are later analyzed for contamination data.

How were the asteroid samples collected?

The TAGSAM collector made contact with Bennu’s surface in October 2020, using nitrogen gas to push fine-grained rocks and dust from up to 19 inches below the surface into the collector head, which sealed with a flap.

What scientific insights do these samples provide?

The collected samples include materials from both the asteroid’s surface and deeper layers. These samples are invaluable for understanding Bennu’s geological history, its history of impacts, and assessing the risk of asteroid impacts on Earth.

When will images and analysis results be available?

Images of the asteroid samples and early analysis results will be unveiled during a live NASA event at 11 a.m. EDT on Wednesday, October 11.

More about OSIRIS-REx mission

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SpaceNerd88 October 8, 2023 - 12:45 pm

TAGSAM sounds techy! Bennu samples gonna tell us a lot bout space rocks.

JohnSmith October 8, 2023 - 9:39 pm

Osiris rex is a cool space mission, can’t wait 2 see the pichers!

GrammarGuru October 9, 2023 - 4:19 am

Spelling and punctuation errors detract from the text’s professionalism. It needs proofreading.

CuriousCat October 9, 2023 - 7:25 am

Links are helpful, but some descriptions could be clearer.


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