1. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Achieves Sample Mass Milestone

    By Erin Morton

    November 14, 2023 -

    TAG Sample

    The curation team processing NASA’s asteroid Bennu sample has removed and collected 2.48 ounces (70.3 grams) of rocks and dust from the sampler hardware – surpassing the agency’s goal of bringing at least 60 grams to Earth.

    And the good news is, there’s still more of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security–Regolith Explorer) sample to collect.

    The sample processed so far includes the rocks and dust found on the outside of the sampler head, as well as a portion of the bulk sample from inside the head, which was accessed through the head’s mylar flap. Additional material remaining inside the sampler head, called the Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism, or TAGSAM, is set for removal later, adding to the mass total.

    In the last week, the team at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston changed its approach to opening the TAGSAM head, which contained the bulk of the rocks and dust collected by the spacecraft in 2020. After multiple attempts at removal, the team discovered two of the 35 fasteners on the TAGSAM head could not be removed with the current tools approved for use in the OSIRIS-REx glovebox. The team has been working to develop and implement new approaches to extract the material inside the head, while continuing to keep the sample safe and pristine.

    As a first step, the team successfully accessed some of the material by holding down the head’s mylar flap and removing the sample inside with tweezers or a scoop, depending on material size. The collection and containment of material through this method, combined with the earlier collection of material located outside the head, yielded a total mass exceeding the 60 grams required.

    The team will spend the next few weeks developing and practicing a new procedure to remove the remaining asteroid sample from the TAGSAM sampler head while simultaneously processing the material that was collected this week. The OSIRIS-REx science team will also proceed with its plan to characterize the extracted material and begin analysis of the bulk sample obtained so far.

    All curation work on the sample – and the TAGSAM head – is performed in a specialized glovebox under a flow of nitrogen to keep it from being exposed to Earth’s atmosphere, preserving the sample’s pristine state for subsequent scientific analysis. The tools for any proposed solution to extract the remaining material from the head must be able to fit inside the glovebox and not compromise the scientific integrity of the collection, and any procedures must be consistent with the clean room’s standards.

    While the procedure to access the final portion of the material is being developed, the team has removed the TAGSAM head from the active flow of nitrogen in the glovebox and stored it in its transfer container, sealed with an O-ring and surrounded by a sealed Teflon bag to make sure the sample is kept safe in a stable, nitrogen-rich, environment.

  2. The OSIRIS-REx Sample Canister Lid is Removed

    September 27, 2023 -

    OSIRIS REx Asteroid Sample Return lid opening at Building 31 Astromaterials Curation Facility. Photo Date: September 26, 2023. Location: Bldg. 31 – OSIRIS REx Thin Section Lab. Photographer: Robert Markowitz

    NASA scientists found black dust and debris on the avionics deck of the OSIRIS-REx science canister when the initial lid was removed today. The canister from the OSIRIS-REx sample return capsule was delivered to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston on Sept. 25 after landing in the Utah desert on Sept. 24. Johnson houses the world’s largest collection of astromaterials, and curation experts there will perform the intricate disassembly of the Touch and Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) to get down to the bulk sample within. These operations are happening in a new laboratory designed specifically for the OSIRIS-REx mission. The aluminum lid was removed inside a glovebox designed to enable working with the large piece of hardware.

    When the TAGSAM is separated from the canister, it will be inserted in a sealed transfer container to preserve a nitrogen environment for up to about two hours. This container allows enough time for the team to insert the TAGSAM into another unique glovebox. Ultimately, this speeds up the disassembly process. There is a very high level of focus from the team — the sample will be revealed with an amazing amount of precision to accommodate delicate hardware removal so as not to come into contact with the sample inside.

    With an array of team members on deck, scientists and engineers at Johnson will work together to complete the disassembly process and reveal the sample to the world in a special live broadcast event on Oct. 11 at 11 a.m. ET, streamed at NASA.gov/live.

    Shaneequa Vereen
    NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston

  3. OSIRIS-REx Sample Capsule Released for Landing on Earth

    September 24, 2023 -
    Animated still showing OSIRIS-REx spacecraft approaching Earth.

    Animated still showing OSIRIS-REx spacecraft approaching Earth.

    Doppler data indicates that NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft released its sample capsule toward Earth at 6:42 a.m. EDT (4:42 a.m. MDT), as planned, from 63,000 miles of Earth’s surface – about one-third the distance from Earth to the Moon. 

    After traveling for about four hours through space, the capsule will enter the atmosphere off the coast of California at about 10:42 a.m. EDT (8:42 a.m. MDT) and head east. It will land about 13 minutes later in a predetermined 36-mile by 8.5-mile area on the Department of Defense’s Utah Test and Training Range near Salt Lake City.  

    Read more –>

  4. OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft Departs for New Mission

    September 24, 2023 -
    Animation of OSIRIS-REx spacecraft firing rockets to manuever away from Earth.

    Animation of OSIRIS-REx spacecraft firing rockets to manuever away from Earth.

    NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft completed its final task for this mission when it released its sample capsule toward Earth on September 24, 2023. About 20 minutes after doing so, the spacecraft fired its engines to divert past Earth toward its new mission to asteroid Apophis and was renamed OSIRIS-APEX.

    Roughly 1,000 feet wide, Apophis will come within 20,000 miles of Earth – less than one-tenth the distance between Earth and the Moon – in 2029. OSIRIS-APEX is scheduled to enter orbit of Apophis soon after the asteroid’s close approach of Earth to see how the encounter affected the asteroid’s orbit, spin rate, and surface. 

  5. OSIRIS-REx team completes final test before asteroid sample delivery

    September 6, 2023 -
    Principal Investigator Dante Lauretta examines a model of the sample capsule.

    OSIRIS-REx principal investigator Dante Lauretta examines a replica of the sample capsule, consisting of the heatshield (white) and the back shell (tan), following a successful drop test. (Chris Richards/University Communications)

    Members of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample recovery team gathered in Utah’s West Desert this week to participate in final preparations for the arrival of the first U.S.-collected asteroid sample, slated to land on Earth later this month.

    The team includes mission principal investigator Dante Lauretta, a University of Arizona Regents Professor of Planetary Sciences, and Anjani Polit, a senior systems engineer with the university’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory who serves as mission implementation systems engineer for the OSIRIS-REx mission.

    A mockup of the OSIRIS-REx sample capsule was dropped from an aircraft Wednesday and landed at the drop zone at the Department of Defense’s Utah Test and Training Range in the desert outside Salt Lake City. This was part of the mission’s final major test prior to the Sept. 24 arrival of the actual capsule containing a sample of asteroid Bennu collected in space almost three years ago.

    “We are now mere weeks away from receiving a piece of solar system history on Earth, and this successful drop test ensures we’re ready,” said Nicola Fox, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C.

    The drop test followed a series of earlier rehearsals – focused on capsule recovery, spacecraft engineering operations and sample curation procedures – conducted in the spring and earlier this summer.

    NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft collected a sample from asteroid Bennu in October 2020. Stowed safely inside the spacecraft’s sample return capsule, it will land in Utah via parachute.

    Researchers will study the sample in the coming years to learn about how our planet and solar system formed and about the origin of organics that may have led to life on Earth.

    Read more at UANews ->

  6. Final Rehearsal Prepares Mission Team for Sept. 24 Bennu Sample Retrieval

    September 5, 2023 -
    Image shows a capsule attached to its parachute on the ground.

    A capsule descends toward the ground under a parachute on Aug. 30, 2023. Credit: NASA/Keegan Barber.

    Though there are only a few weeks left until the mission’s seven-year journey comes to its climactic end, the mood of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx team is calm. After months of rehearsals, it was clear during the final dress rehearsal this week in Utah that the team has mastered the intricate steps required to retrieve the sample of asteroid Bennu after it lands on Earth on Sept. 24.

    On Aug. 28 – 30, OSIRIS-REx team members simulated the procedures they will follow next month to navigate the spacecraft to Earth, instruct it to release the capsule carrying the asteroid sample, monitor the capsule as it flies through the atmosphere onto a predetermined landing ellipse at the Department of Defense’s Utah Test and Training Range, quickly retrieve it from the ground to prevent contamination from Earth’s environment, and transport it by helicopter to a temporary clean room on the range.

    Read more at NASA’s OSIRIS-REx blog ->

  7. NASA Invites Media to View Asteroid Sample Recovery Rehearsal

    June 8, 2023 -

    Artist’s concept of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft collecting a sample from the asteroid Bennu. Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    Editor’s note: This media advisory was updated Wednesday, June 7, 2023, to correctly reflect the times and dates of the events.

    NASA invites media to attend the first major asteroid sample recovery rehearsal for its OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security – Regolith Explorer) mission on Tuesday, June 27, to Wednesday, June 28, at Lockheed Martin in Littleton, Colorado.

    OSIRIS-REx is the first U.S. mission to capture a sample from the surface of an asteroid and deliver it back to Earth for the benefit of all. The delivery from asteroid Bennu will arrive Sept. 24, and help researchers study the origins of organics and water that could have led to life on Earth.

    Media will have the opportunity to:

    • Watch scientists and engineers conduct a sample capsule recovery practice outdoors, with an additional availability to view a clean room rehearsal the following day
    • Film video and take photos of the rehearsal activities
    • Interview mission experts from NASA, the University of Arizona, and Lockheed Martin
    • Tour Lockheed Martin’s mission operations area from where OSIRIS-REx is operated

    International media should RSVP no later than 12 p.m. ET Thursday, June 15, to Lauren Duda at lauren.e.duda@lmco.com to allow time for credentialing. U.S. media interested in attending one or both days of media activities, should RSVP no later than 12 p.m. ET Tuesday, June 20, to Lauren Duda at lauren.e.duda@lmco.com.

    Full coverage of the rehearsal is as follows (all times Mountain).

    Tuesday, June 27

    • 9 a.m. – Nominal Rehearsal of Sample Return Capsule
    • 10 a.m. – Interview Availability with Mission Experts
    • 11:30 a.m. – Tour Mission Operations Area

    Wednesday, June 28

    • 10 a.m. – Watch Nominal Clean Room Rehearsal
    • 12 p.m. – Interview Availability with Mission Experts

    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, provides overall mission management, systems engineering, and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is the principal investigator. The university leads the science team and the mission’s science observation planning and data processing. Lockheed Martin Space built the spacecraft and provides flight operations. Goddard and KinetX Aerospace are responsible for navigating the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. Curation for OSIRIS-REx, including processing the sample when it arrives on Earth, will take place at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

    OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program, managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate.

    For more information about OSIRIS-REx, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/osiris-rex

    -end-

    Karen Fox / Erin Morton
    Headquarters, Washington
    301-286-6284 / 202-805-9393
    karen.c.fox@nasa.gov / erin.morton@nasa.gov

    Last Updated: Jun 7, 2023
    Editor: Roxana Bardan
  8. NASA Scientist Visits Kennedy Ahead of OSIRIS-REx Return

    June 5, 2023 -

    NASA’s OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer) is on its way home with an otherworldly gift for Earth’s scientists – a sample from asteroid Bennu. With anticipation growing ahead of its Sept. 24 arrival, Dr. Jason Dworkin, project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, visited Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where the mission launched seven years ago.

    OSIRIS-REx Project Scientist, Dr. Jason Dworkin of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, presents a mission update inside the Mission Briefing Room of the Neil A. Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on May 11, 2023. Launched seven years ago, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is set to return a material sample from asteroid Bennu on Sept. 24, 2023, when the sample return capsule separates from the spacecraft and lands by parachute at the Utah Test and Training Range/Dugway Proving Ground, southwest of Salt Lake City. OSIRIS-REx is the first U.S. mission to sample an asteroid, retrieve at least two ounces of surface material, and return it to Earth for study. Credit: NASA/Frank Michaux

    In a launch managed by NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at Kennedy, OSIRIS-REx lifted off Sept. 8, 2016, on an Atlas V 411 from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station (formerly Cape Canaveral Air Force Station) in Florida, as the third mission in the agency’s New Frontiers Program and the first U.S. mission to travel to an asteroid, retrieve samples, and return them to Earth.

    “The OSIRIS-REx Bennu samples are really a treasure trove of information about the history of our solar system that will not only solve the scientific questions that we’re asking today, but those that people will be asking for many generations into the future,” said Rex Englehart, Launch Services Program mission manager, who managed the launch in 2016.

    With a target of collecting 2.1 ounces (60 grams) of asteroid material – the largest asteroid sample ever received on Earth – scientists hoped studying material from the ancient solar system would shed light on some of science’s biggest mysteries.

    “Can we look at samples of leftover material from the remnants of our solar system – from asteroids – to understand this environment and everything that happened after it?” Dworkin asked the audience inside the Mission Briefing Room of the Neil A. Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at Kennedy. “That’s the goal of OSIRIS-REx – to understand that input of extraterrestrial material to the early Earth (or early Mars, Europa, Enceladus, etc.) and try to understand how this connects to the origin and early evolution of life.”

    Choosing from around 500,000 known asteroids in 2010 and aiming to retrieve the sample within the lifespan of the science and engineering team, project scientists selected asteroid Bennu from around 7,000 near-Earth asteroids – 192 with optimal orbits for sample return, 26 big enough not to be a fast-rotator, and five carbon-rich asteroids. Bennu was selected of these five since it was the best understood at the time.

    The spacecraft spent two years cruising to Bennu, arriving in August 2018, then entering into a .6-mile (1 km) orbit around the .3-mile (500 m) asteroid, later setting the record for closest orbit around the smallest object (500 m). Its specialized instruments mapped the asteroid’s surface, identified minerals and chemicals, and provided the information required for the mission team to select the site where the spacecraft’s Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) would collect the sample on Oct. 20, 2020, with Bennu 200 million miles (321 million km) from Earth at the time.

    “The surface of Bennu is so soft, like a children’s ball pit or freshly fallen snow,” Dworkin said. “This spacecraft descending at 10 cm per second didn’t even slow down. It kept going until the back-away thrusters fired automatically, and then we pulled it away and that left a crater and threw meter-sized rocks dozens of meters away.”

    OSIRIS-REx collected much more material than the mission target of 2.1 ounces (60 grams) – approximately 8.8 ounces (250 grams) – necessitating some adjustments from the mission team to quickly stow the sample for the return trip.

    “Sample collection is just the pinnacle of the mission so far,” Dworkin said. “Sixty grams is a lot of sample – 250 grams is a massive amount of sample.”

    When OSIRIS-REx returns to Earth this fall, the spacecraft will eject the sample return capsule from 155 miles (250 kilometers) above Earth. Mission teams will be ready to retrieve the capsule after it lands with the help of parachutes at the Department of Defense’s Utah Test and Training Range/Dugway Proving Ground, southwest of Salt Lake City, transporting quickly to a cleanroom at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston where it will be curated.

    During the next two years, 25% of the sample material from asteroid Bennu will go to 200 scientists around the world for research, including Dworkin’s team at Goddard, using instruments too large and fussy to put on spacecraft. Most of the sample is reserved for future generations of scientists.

    “This is the legacy that OSIRIS-REx will bring,” Dworkin said. “Seventy-five percent of the sample is archived for scientists around the world to write proposals to, and material will be archived for decades as technology advances come up with new ideas and new techniques.”

    Its mission complete, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will fly on to a new target and mission with a new name: OSIRIS-APEX (OSIRIS-APophis EXplorer). The spacecraft will head to the asteroid Apophis – a potentially hazardous asteroid roughly 1,200 feet (roughly 370 meters) in diameter that will come within 20,000 miles (32,000 kilometers) of Earth in 2029 – to study the changes in the asteroid by its close flyby of Earth.

    While a new generation of scientists will lead OSIRIS-APEX, Dworkin will continue following the asteroid Bennu sample and plans to return to Kennedy to share the science made possible through the OSIRIS-REx mission.

    “I love coming to Kennedy Space Center,” Dworkin said. “The launch pads are cathedrals to science. It is a region of contrast – it’s history and the future. It’s fire and water. It’s nature and technology.”

    By Jason Costa
    NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center

    Related Link: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/nasa-scientist-visits-kennedy-ahead-of-osiris-rex-return

  9. NASA Prepares for Historic Asteroid Sample Delivery on Sept. 24

    March 24, 2023 -

    NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is cruising back to Earth with a sample it collected from the rocky surface of asteroid Bennu. When its sample capsule parachutes down into the Utah desert on Sept. 24, OSIRIS-REx will become the United States’ first-ever mission to return an asteroid sample to Earth.

    After seven years in space, including a nail-biting touchdown on Bennu to gather dust and rocks, this intrepid mission is about to face one of its biggest challenges yet: deliver the asteroid sample to Earth while protecting it from heat, vibrations, and earthly contaminants.

    “Once the sample capsule touches down, our team will be racing against the clock to recover it and get it to the safety of a temporary clean room,” said Mike Moreau, deputy project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

    NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is cruising back to Earth with a sample it collected from the rocky surface of asteroid Bennu. When its sample capsule parachutes down into the Utah desert on Sept. 24, OSIRIS-REx will become the United States’ first-ever mission to return an asteroid sample to Earth. Download this video in HD formats from NASA Goddard’s Scientific Visualization Studio: https://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/14316
    Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

    So, over the next six months, the OSIRIS-REx team will practice and refine the procedures required to recover the sample in Utah and transport it to a new lab built for the material at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. There, scientists will unpack the sample, distribute up to a quarter of it to the OSIRIS-REx science team around the world for analysis, and curate the rest for other scientists to study, now and in future generations.

    Flight dynamics engineers from NASA Goddard and KinetX Aerospace are reviewing the trajectory that will bring the spacecraft close to Earth. At Lockheed Martin in Denver, team members are keeping tabs on the spacecraft and preparing a group to recover the sample capsule. This summer, crews in Colorado and Utah will practice all of the steps to recover the capsule safely, while protecting it from contamination. At Johnson Space Center, the curation team is rehearsing their procedure to unpack and process the sample inside glove boxes. Meanwhile, members of the sample science team are preparing the investigations they will perform with the sample material once received.

    “The OSIRIS-REx team has already performed amazing feats characterizing and sampling asteroid Bennu,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator from the University of Arizona, Tucson. “These accomplishments are the direct result of the extensive training and rehearsals that we performed every step of the way. We are bringing that level of discipline and dedication to this final phase of the flight operations.”

    Members of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx curation team practice with a mock glove box at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. The curation team will be among the first to see and handle the sample OSIRIS-REx is returning from asteroid Bennu. They are also responsible for storing and distributing the sample to science team members around the world. Most of the sample will be stored for future generations. Credit: NASA Johnson/Bill Stafford

    Asteroids are the ancient materials left over from the original era of planet formation and may contain molecular precursors to life. Scientists have learned a great deal from studying asteroid fragments that have naturally reached the ground as meteorites. But to understand whether asteroids played a role in delivering these compounds to Earth’s surface over 4 billion years ago, scientists need a pristine sample from space, free from terrestrial contaminants.

    In addition, the most fragile rocks observed on Bennu probably would not have survived passage through Earth’s atmosphere as meteorites. “There are two things pervasive on Earth: water and biology,” said Dr. Jason Dworkin, OSIRIS-REx project scientist at NASA Goddard. “Both can severely alter meteorites when they land on the ground and muddle the story told by the sample’s chemistry and mineralogy. A pristine sample could provide insights into the development of solar system.”

    On Sept. 24, as the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft flies by Earth, it will release its sample return capsule, thereby ending its primary mission. The capsule, which is estimated to hold about a cup of Bennu’s material – 8.8 ounces +/- 3.6 ounces (250 grams +/- 101 grams) to be precise – will land within a 37-mile by 9-mile ellipse (59 km by 15 km) within Department of Defense property that is part of the Utah Test and Training Range and Dugway Proving Grounds.

    OSIRIS-REx team members from NASA Goddard, KinetX, Lockheed Martin, and NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, are using computer models to test navigation plans in various weather, solar activity, and space debris scenarios to ensure that when the capsule enters Earth’s atmosphere at 10:41 a.m. ET (8:41 a.m. MT), it will touch down inside the targeted area 13 minutes later.

    Recovery crews are responsible for securing the sample return capsule’s landing site and helicoptering it to a portable clean room located at the range. Additionally, crews will collect soil and air samples all around the landing capsule. These samples will help identify if any minute contaminants contacted the asteroid sample.

    Once the capsule is inside the building with the portable clean room, members of the team will remove the heat shield, back shell, and other components to prepare the sample canister for transport to Houston.

    The return to Earth of samples from asteroid Bennu will be the culmination of a more than 12-year effort by NASA and its mission partners but marks the beginning of a new phase of discovery as scientists from around the world will turn their attention to the analysis of this unique and precious material dating from the early formation of our solar system.

    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center provides overall mission management, systems engineering, and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is the principal investigator. The university leads the science team and the mission’s science observation planning and data processing. Lockheed Martin Space in Littleton, Colorado, built the spacecraft and provides flight operations. Goddard and KinetX Aerospace are responsible for navigating the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. Curation for OSIRIS-REx, including processing the sample when it arrives on Earth, will take place at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. International partnerships on this mission include the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter instrument from the Canadian Space Agency and asteroid sample science collaboration with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Hayabusa2 mission. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program, managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate Washington.

    By Rani Gran
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

    Related Link: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2023/nasa-prepares-for-osiris-rex-historic-asteroid-sample-delivery-sept-24-2023