The US interplanetary station OSIRIS-Rex of the NASA aerospace agency, sent to the hunt for the asteroid Bennu in September 2016, conducted a successful test of the tool, which is entrusted with the main task of this mission, writes NASA website. This is a TAGSAM (Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism) robotic arm, with which OSIRIS-REx will collect asteroid soil samples.
Before starting the implementation of the main task of studying the asteroid Bennu, the NASA team of engineers needed to check the arm that had been folded all the time. To test the performance of all mechanisms, the robotic arm was spread out to its full length. The mission team understood that all parts of the instrument work in normal mode from the telemetry data received from the spacecraft, as well as from the SamCam on-board camera.
The robotic arm itself consists of a sampling unit and a folding manipulator with a length of 3.35 meters, which will allow the sampler to be installed on the asteroid’s surface, without landing the entire apparatus on the asteroid’s surface. To facilitate the sampling process, the regolith will be transferred to the trap using compressed nitrogen, which is stored on the satellite. The whole process will be documented by one of the three on-board cameras. At the end of the fence, all the collected material will be moved to the return vehicle and sent to Earth. It is planned that the weight of samples will range from 60 grams to two kilograms. The process of soil acquisition will take no more than 5 seconds, after which the device, by careful maneuvering, will move away from the asteroid and go home.
The OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft should reach the Bennu asteroid within the next two weeks. According to expectations, this should happen on December 3rd. After that, the annual mission of the object research with four scientific spectrometers of various purposes, as well as preparation for the collection of samples, will begin. The mission team will select the most suitable and potentially interesting place to pick up the ground, after which in July 2020 it will make the device as close as possible to the surface of the asteroid to collect material of interest to scientists.
The probe is expected to return Bennu’s soil samples back to Earth in 2023. The collected samples, scientists believe, will allow to learn more about the time when the solar system was still very young, since the asteroid itself is much older than itself.