The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has said that its team processing the sample retrieved from asteroid Bennu under the OSIRIS-REx mission has sucessfully removed and collected 70.3 grams (or 2.48 ounces) of rocks and dust.
This is more than the agency’s goal of bringing at least 60 grams to Earth, it said.
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx, the first US mission to collect a sample from an asteroid, delivered rocks and dust from asteroid Bennu to Earth on September 24.
The material from Bennu – which the spacecraft collected from the asteroid’s surface in 2020 – will offer generations of scientists a window into the time when the Sun and planets were forming about 4.5 billion years ago.
On October 20, NASA said that the sample processed so far includes the rocks and dust found on the outside of the sampler head, as well as a portion of the bulk sample from inside the head, which was accessed through the head’s mylar flap.
The US space agency said that some additional material remains inside the sampler head, called the Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism, or TAGSAM, which the teams at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) are struggling to open.
“In the last week, the team at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston changed its approach to opening the TAGSAM head, which contained the bulk of the rocks and dust collected by the spacecraft in 2020,” the space agency said in a blog post. “After multiple attempts at removal, the team discovered two of the 35 fasteners on the TAGSAM head could not be removed with the current tools approved for use in the OSIRIS-REx glovebox. The team has been working to develop and implement new approaches to extract the material inside the head, while continuing to keep the sample safe and pristine.”
It said that the team will spend the next few weeks developing and practicing a new procedure to remove the remaining asteroid sample from the TAGSAM sampler head while simultaneously processing the material that was collected this week.
“The OSIRIS-REx science team will also proceed with its plan to characterize the extracted material and begin analysis of the bulk sample obtained so far,” the US space agency pointed out.