NASA Reports Bulk Sample Mass for OSIRIS-REx

On September 24, 2023, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft returned to Earth with 4.29 ounces (121.6 grams) of material from the asteroid Bennu. This is the largest asteroid sample ever recovered in orbit and more than double what was needed for the mission.

The project’s research objectives required the mission team to collect a minimum of 60 grams of material, which was surpassed even before the Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) head was fully opened. Small rocks and dust were collected in October 2023 by curation processors from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, from both the inside of the TAGSAM head itself and the large canister that held it. The collection was made possible by the mylar flap on the TAGSAM head.

The TAGSAM head’s disassembly was put on hold in late October 2023 because the crew ran into two obstinate fasteners that prevented them from finishing the procedure and exposing the last sample inside.

In January, the ARES curation engineers successfully removed the screws and finished disassembling the TAGSAM head after creating, testing, and manufacturing new tools. After being carefully disclosed, the remaining Bennu sample was transferred into containers shaped like wedges. From this pour, 1.81 ounces (51.2 grams) were gathered. The bulk Bennu sample mass is 4.29 ounces (121.6 grams) when combined with the previously measured 2.48 ounces (70.3 grams) plus extra particles collected outside of the pour. NASA intends to conserve a minimum of 70% of the sample at Johnson for use in future research projects by experts across the globe.

The Bennu material will be provided for analysis by researchers after being containerized and taken from NASA Johnson’s archive. A global cohort of over 200 scientists, including investigators from numerous US universities, NASA partners JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) and CSA (Canadian Space Agency), and others, will investigate the features of regolith as part of the OSIRIS-REx mission.

The global scientific community will be able to request the asteroid sample when the curation team releases a catalog of the OSIRIS-REx samples later this spring.

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