Capsule gave in: NASA finally got to the blocked samples of the asteroid Bennu

The months of struggling with the stuck lid of the OSIRIS-REx capsule are finally over. NASA engineers have finally removed two stubborn fasteners that prevented the space agency from gaining access to the full number of valuable rock samples of the asteroid Bennu since its landing on Earth in September 2023.

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx engineer attaches one of the tools designed to remove the last two fasteners that prevented the removal of the TAGSAM head, which holds the remaining rock samples inside the capsule taken from the asteroid Bennu. Image: NASA

The OSIRIS-REx curatorial team managed to remove the TAGSAM (Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism) head, where the bulk of the asteroid samples were stored, NASA reported. It was necessary to open the capsule very carefully so as not to contaminate valuable rock samples with terrestrial particles. Therefore, after unsuccessful attempts, the agency’s engineers were forced to develop new tools to help remove the two fasteners. So the capsule was finally fully opened on January 10th. 

A capsule with samples from the asteroid Bennu was delivered by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx to Earth shortly after landing in the desert on Sunday, September 24, 2023. Authorship: NASA

However, there are still several stages left before obtaining full and unhindered access to the samples. Image processing specialists should take ultra-high-resolution images while the rock is still inside the TAGSAM head. After that, the sample will be extracted and weighed so that NASA can determine the exact amount of rocky debris that OSIRIS-REx brought from Bennu to Earth.

This image taken by NASA in Houston, Texas, shows the exterior of the OSIRIS-REx container with valuable scientific material from the asteroid Bennu. Photo: NASA

The OSIRIS-REx mission launched in September 2016 and reached the asteroid Bennu in December 2018. In October 2020, the spacecraft collected fragments from a small near-Earth asteroid and headed for Earth in May 2021. The spacecraft dropped the capsule in the Utah Desert in September 2023. After delivery to the laboratory, it turned out that full access to the samples was blocked due to the head of the TAGSAM sampler at the end of the hinged arm that the spacecraft used to take samples. Two of the 35 mounts on the TAGSAM head could not be removed using the available tools approved for use with OSIRIS-REx, which prevented them from extracting samples from the inside.

Members of the OSIRIS-REx team are trying to take down TAGSAM to gain access to valuable samples. Authorship: NASA

Before the capsule was fully opened, the team managed to collect some material from outside the TAGSAM head. When the aluminum lid of the sample container was first removed, the team members found black dust. This particular rock was exhibited at the museum on November 3, 2023.

Now that NASA has gained access to the entire rock, we are looking forward to the results of the rock analysis and the announcement of the first amazing discoveries. That’s because these samples have been untouched since the formation of the Solar System more than 4.6 billion years ago.

Earlier, we reported on how scientists were struck by samples from the asteroid Bennu.

According to NASA

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