OSIRIS-REx spacecraft heads home with asteroid samples and data

OSIRIS-REx spacecraft heads home with asteroid samples and data

The arrival back on Earth is scheduled for 24 September 2023.

OSIRIS-REx spacecraft heads home with asteroid samples and dataWe reported in January that Infra-red detectors produced by Leonardo in Southampton were used for the Bennu mission. Arizona State University, which is working with Nasa on the mission, selected Leonardo’s infra-red sensors (pictured) for their Osiris-Rex thermal emission spectrometer (OTES) instrument, which allowed minerals on the surface of the asteroid to be detected.

ASU team leader for sensors, Greg Mehall, commented:

“We managed to extract a large volume of useful data from the OTES instrument due to the fine-tuned sensitivity of Leonardo’s sensors. They have to be able to withstand the tough conditions of space whilst also giving us the same quality of readings that we would expect in lab conditions- we are very excited by the initial findings so far which will form part of a richer picture once the satellite returns to earth!”

Leonardo’s Principal Systems Engineer Raman Mistry is optimistic about the sensors’ potential for future missions:

“It is very exciting to be a part of what is very much a new age of space exploration. We are challenging ourselves to provide the best sensors possible to help scientists understand how earth fits into the wider fabric of the universe. Our team gets a real buzz from working on such an important mission and we look forward to continuing our highly enjoyable, challenging and enriching collaboration with ASU for future missions far into the future!”

OSIRIS-REx stands for “Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer”.

Additional images from the mission can be found online.

Mission timeline

The Preliminary Survey Phase of the mission began when the spacecraft arrived at Bennu on 3 December 2018. It made a total of five passes over the north pole, equator, and south pole at a range of 4.3 miles (7 km).

During the sample collection event, OSIRIS-REx used the TAGSAM (Touch-and-Go-Sample-Acquisition-Mechanism) instrument to collect a sample of regolith from Bennu. How did it manage this? The momentum of the spacecraft’s slow, downward trajectory pushed it against the asteroid’s surface for about ten seconds, which was just long enough to obtain a sample, writes Nasa.

This was placed in the Sample Return Capsule for return to the Earth.

Image: Global map demonstrates the distribution of temperatures across the surface of asteroid Bennu – data collected by OTES and OVIRS spectrometers on the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft.