Just weeks after the return module of the Osiris-Rex mission successfully returned to Earth after seven years of research and more than half a billion kilometers of travel at the end of September with samples from the asteroid Bennu, the inspiring scientific triumph has achieved great success. Minor hitch. The probe’s sample collection container, a special sampling container called TAGSAM, is stuck and will not open.
After two years, the Osiris-Rex probe descended to the asteroid Bennu in late 2018 and touched it with a TAGSAM container. During the process, nitrogen gas was blown onto the surface of the celestial body, so the container caught the expelled material and then sealed it tightly before a robotic arm placed it in the re-entry unit. The main goal of the mission was to ensure that the material reached Earth intact, and that scientists could access it in a special display case so that the sample would not be contaminated. The latter, if you like, was very good.
The problem is caused by the fact that two of the 35 fasteners holding the tank together cannot be removed with the tools available, but no serious locksmith work can be done without jeopardizing the results of the job.
I am glad that TAGSAM received more than expected: already at the beginning of the opening process, 70.3 grams of material spilled out of it, so the weight of the sample immediately exceeded the 60 grams set as the minimum for the success of the mission.
For now, most of the spoils, about 250 grams of aggregate rock, were trapped in the tank under the protection of a sealing ring and a nitrogen-filled Teflon bag.
It is worth noting that Bennu, with a diameter of half a kilometer, tops the Palermo scale, which classifies the danger of collisions with celestial bodies moving near the Earth. Meanwhile, in astronomical terms, it is an astronomical time capsule that has been orbiting untouched for billions of years, carrying valuable knowledge about the early era of the solar system and the formation of the Earth. For this reason, it is important that compounds representing a likely origin or life history can be tested on intact samples.
As a starting point, we already know that based on analysis of material released so far, the asteroid contains a significant amount of water and carbon.