Skip to main content

NASA mission collected at least 70 grams of material from asteroid Bennu

NASA recently brought its first sample back from an asteroid, with the OSIRIS-REx mission dropping off a sample from asteroid Bennu in the Utah desert. The goal of the mission was to collect at least 60 grams of material, and NASA has now revealed that a total of 70.3 grams has been removed from the sampler so far.

The researchers didn’t know beforehand how much material they had collected, as they hadn’t been able to perform the required maneuvers with the spacecraft to make a mass estimate while the sample was in transit. They had chosen not to perform the acceleration maneuvers that would let them measure the mass due to an issue that occurred during sample collection, when a rock had wedged open the door of the sample canister and allowed some of the sample to escape. To prevent any more sample loss, the canister was quickly stowed inside the spacecraft.

Two NASA personnel carry a container holding the sample gathered from the Bennu asteroid.
NASA personnel carry a container holding the sample gathered from the Bennu asteroid. NASA

So though initial estimates of how much material was in the sample were up to hundreds of grams, there was significant uncertainty in those estimates. But even the current amount of material collected is plenty for researchers to work with. For example, Japan’s Hayabusa 2 asteroid sample return mission was able to collect around 5 grams, which researchers have been busily working on since 2020.

Scientists have already perform a quick first look analysis of material that was on the outside of the OSIRIS-REx canister, and one of these researchers, Pierre Haenecour, told Digital Trends that his group could work for years on even a tiny particle. The bounty of sample material will be shared out between different labs in the U.S. and abroad, with some of the sample going to Japanese space agency JAXA, for example, in return for some of the Hayabusa 2 sample that was shared with NASA.

Getting the sample out of the canister has proven more complex than initially expected, however. The curation team had issues with removing two of the 25 fasteners that hold the sample within the collection mechanism, as they are only able to use particular tools within a sealed glovebox that holds the mechanism. They were able to collect the 70 grams by holding down a flap and painstakingly removing pieces of the sample with tweezers.

NASA has shared that the team is now working on a new procedure to open up the mechanism, which should hopefully result in them being able to collect even more of the sample.

Editors' Recommendations

Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
Watch NASA’s cinematic trailer for its asteroid mission’s homecoming
This artist’s concept shows NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft descending towards asteroid Bennu to collect a sample of the asteroid’s surface.

OSIRIS-REx Sample Return Trailer

It has been seven years since NASA launched the OSIRIS-REx mission from Cape Canaveral in Florida, and in just a few weeks’ time, all the hard work will culminate in a special delivery to Earth in the form of samples from asteroid Bennu collected by NASA's spacecraft in 2020.

Read more
NASA’s Psyche mission to metal asteroid has a new launch date
This illustration, updated as of June 2020, depicts NASA’s Psyche spacecraft.

NASA's Psyche spacecraft, set to visit a mysterious metal asteroid, has been given a new launch date following a delay to its launch which was originally set for August 2022. The spacecraft missed its launch date due to technical problems with its software which were announced in June, but now it will launch in October 2023 instead.

By launching at this time, the spacecraft can follow a flight profile similar to the previously planned one. The spacecraft will perform a flyby of Mars for a gravity assist in 2026 and is scheduled to arrive at the asteroid Psyche in August 2029. The spacecraft will investigate the asteroid, also called Psyche, which is thought to be made almost entirely of metal. Studying the asteroid could help researchers learn about how planets formed, because the asteroid may have been in the early stages of becoming a planetary core.

Read more
NASA’s DART mission successfully changed asteroid’s orbit
Illustration of NASA’s DART spacecraft and the Italian Space Agency’s (ASI) LICIACube prior to impact at the Didymos binary system.

The results of NASA’s ambitious DART planetary mission are in, and the results are very good indeed.

In a historic announcement on Tuesday, the space agency confirmed that for the first time, humanity has succeeded in changing the orbit of a planetary body, suggesting we now have a way to protect ourselves against hazardous asteroids spotted coming our way.

Read more