It has been four years since NASA launched its spacecraft- Osiris-Rex- which finally landed on the asteroid Bennu- a historic, and hazardous landing on an astral body which is almost 200 miles away. The spacecraft has been able to travel the entire distance, simply to get through a touch-and-go maneuver- where the goal has been to collect a sample of the asteroid’s surface. It would then safely transport it to Earth for intense research. Unfortunately, we wouldn’t be able to know if Osiris-Rex actually succeeded in getting hold of any souvenir from space until Wednesday. NASA TV did report on Tuesday that the robotic sampling arm of the spacecraft, which has been named Tagsam (Touch and Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism), did in fact settle down on the rocky surface of the asteroid. In this contact of about 15 seconds, it must have done something akin to a pickpocketing maneuver.
How Did Osiris-Rex Land on Bennu?
The spacecraft has been mostly autonomous in its operation resulting from a communications delay of about 18-minutes which the mission control situated on Earth. After its landing, the spacecraft did fire a gas canister through its robotic arm which could have disrupted the surface of this asteroid- giving it enough samples to make it up the arm. The main goal of the mission is to collect almost 60gms of dirt, dust, and pebbles from the asteroid surface. Since it is imperative that one would be able to determine if the goal had actually been met, Osiris-Rex would be maneuvering itself in a position where it could move its arms in several positions to take photos of the arm while weighing the contents inside.
Currently, there is no guarantee that the spacecraft has been actually able to collect any significant samples. The entire time that the spacecraft has been approaching and orbiting the asteroid for close to two years has resulted in it noticing that the asteroid Bennu has a world that is significantly different from the one that most scientists would expect. The mission team had expected that the asteroid would be filled with sandy surfaces- making it perfect for sampling. But Bennu turned out to be nothing but a pile of rubble- with a boulder filled rugged terrain.
What Were The Dangers of Landing on Bennu?
The team never found a space suitable enough for the spacecraft to land- as they had planned for Osiris-Rex to touch down on an even surface. Luckily, the spacecraft seemed to be going beyond its design when it came to precision navigation. This is exactly why the mission team decided to land NASA’s Osiris-Rex on a small parking space called Nightingale.
The entire touch-down was fraught with troubles. For, there could be no saying what could have gone wrong if the spacecraft had clipped itself on a boulder or landed at a weird angle. If it did, then the team would get to know about it on Wednesday- and Osiris-Rex would again make an attempt for the backup site at Bennu.