Wait a minute!
Image credit: Barbara David


Utah Test and Training Range – Exciting times here as I watched the OSIRIS-REx sample return capsule make its safe and sound touchdown at this remote military outpost.

Taking nothing away from this huge step in asteroid research, there are a couple of items of note to keep an eye on.

In-space images show that the OSIRIS-REx mission successfully placed the spacecraft’s sample collector head into its Sample Return Capsule.
Image credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/Lockheed Martin

OSIRIS-REx sample return capsule is seen shortly after touching down in the desert, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023, at the Department of Defense’s Utah Test and Training Range. The sample was collected from the asteroid Bennu in October 2020 by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft.
Image credit: NASA/Keegan Barber

Keeping samples safe

With the prospect of an October 1st government shutdown still looming, there is concern about the impact on NASA’s handling of the just-returned freight from Bennu and the scientific integrity of the samples.

“We want to make sure that these samples are safe,” said Lori Glaze, Director of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate’s Planetary Science Division.

“These are incredibly valuable samples and we’re working through our normal processes for how we make sure that we achieve that,” Glaze told Inside Outer Space.  “NASA will make sure they are kept safe,” she emphasized.

Pre-launch image shows parachute installation in the OSIRIS-REx sample return capsule.
Image credit: Lockheed Martin



Technical hiccups?

There may have been some technical hiccups in the capsule’s speedy and red-hot descent through Earth’s atmosphere, said Tim Priser, Lockheed Martin’s chief engineer for deep space exploration.

The aerospace firm is builder of not only the novel air filter-like Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM), but the return capsule and the spacecraft itself.

Specifically, the capsule’s drogue chute deployment may have been an issue prior to a far-higher and earlier-than-expected main parachute unfurling.

Sequence of events

“Some things in our sequence may or may not have behaved itself exactly the way we expected it to but the subsequent things in the sequence made up for the fact,” Priser said in a post-landing press event.

Not-to-plan parachute sequence.
Image credit: University of Arizona/Heather Roper

“At the end of the day when that main chute deployed it basically corrected any of the sins that may have happened ahead of it,” Priser said.

Engineers will reconstruct the sequence of events that occurred during the return capsule’s dive through Earth’s atmosphere to its full-stop, “soft as a dove,” touchdown in Utah, said Priser.

One of the advantages of landing at the Utah Test and Training Range, Priser added, is the ground and aerial imagery capability used to monitor the capsule’s sky-rocketing re-entry.

“You have your data. You have your models. You have your observations and you’ve got to put all those pieces together so you reconstruct what happened,” Priser told Inside Outer Space.

Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx’s principal investigator from the University of Arizona holds a mock up of the asteroid collection device.
Image credit: Barbara David

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