NASA emergency: The Osiris-Rex probe is losing its stones in space -

20 Minutes

NASA announced on Friday that its Osiris-Rex probe had managed to collect a very large amount of particles from the asteroid Bennu earlier this week, but that there were so many that the collection compartment could not get through. close again, endangering the mission.

The probe is due to bring back dust and small pebbles to Earth in 2023, which would be by far the largest alien sample since the Apollo missions to the Moon.

On condition that she manages to store them tightly for the return trip.

"A substantial fraction of the mass harvested is escaping," Dante Lauretta, head of the mission, announced during a conference call.

Disturbing cloud of particles

In the meantime, the probe has taken pictures from all angles, and its earth masters have discovered with astonishment a disturbing cloud of particles floating around the three-meter-long arm.

The good news is that the probe would have recovered around 400 grams of fragments, much more than the minimum desired 60 grams, and in any case several hundred grams, according to the scientist.

But 5 to 10 grams have already been observed around the arm;

due to microgravity, the fragments behave like fluids.

“My big worry is that particles will escape, we are the victims of our success,” said Dante Lauretta.

As a result, the operation of measuring the mass by rotating the device, initially scheduled for this Saturday, was canceled, as this would risk causing even more fragments to come out.

Sample storage, careful operation

The urgency is now to reduce the activities of the device to a minimum, to limit leaks, and to prepare the samples as quickly as possible in the capsule located in the center of the probe.

This involves arm movement, and must be carefully prepared by engineers.

It may take place on Tuesday.

The fragments are currently in the circular compartment at the end of the arm.

On Tuesday, Bennu's arm stuck for a few seconds on Bennu's floor and at the same time blew out compressed gas, causing particles that were captured inside the arm to rise up, as if under a bell.

But the arm actually sank 48 cm deep, to NASA's surprise.

The compartment closing mechanism is blocked by stones.

Suspense until 2023

Is Osiris-Rex at risk of losing her treasure?

The volume of the leak is not yet well known, but scientists seemed relatively confident, and said it would not be necessary to repeat a sampling operation.

“We think we're losing a small fraction of the materials, but it's more than I would like, I'm pretty worried since I saw the footage,” Dante Lauretta said.

"The most prudent thing is to store as carefully as possible in order to minimize any future loss."

The probe, launched more than four years ago, is due to return to Earth in March, and land in Utah in September 2023. “We will have to wait until we get home to know exactly how much we have , and that, as you can imagine, is difficult, ”added the scientist.


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