The US space agency released the first images on Wednesday of the asteroid Bennu’s soil sampling operation by the Osiris-Rex probe the day before, which show that the device may have succeeded in recovering grains or pebbles.
The probe touched the asteroid’s ground for about 6 seconds to collect, using an arm, grains of sand and dust from Bennu’s ground, lifted from the surface by a blast of compressed gas.
On the succession of photographs taken during the approach, we see the arm approaching the ground, then obviously breaking a large but apparently crumbly stone at the moment of contact, which is good news, said Dante Lauretta, responsible for the mission. , since this would have created fragments more easily recoverable by the arm.
Then the blast of nitrogen released a cloud of dust and grains, according to the images – again good news.
“The conclusion, based on the images we have received so far, is that the sampling operation went very well, as well as hoped,” said the scientist.
The likelihood that materials have been collected “has greatly increased”, he said.
The next few days will deliver the final verdict: first on the basis of photographs of the sample inside the probe, then with the exact measurement of the mass, by a rotation operation of the probe on Saturday, with a report final expected Monday. The goal is at least 60 grams recovered.
The probe was not damaged on contacting the asteroid, the mechanism was triggered, and it was then able to move away at a safe distance.
“The Osiris-Rex mission went beyond all expectations,” said NASA boss Jim Bridenstine, congratulating the teams.
The samples will then have to be brought back to Earth: the return is scheduled for September 2023.