Home Technology Crossed wires led to excessive drama as NASA returned asteroid samples to Earth

Crossed wires led to excessive drama as NASA returned asteroid samples to Earth

Crossed wires led to excessive drama as NASA returned asteroid samples to Earth


The OSIRIS-REx sample return capsule, with its main parachute nearby, shortly after landing in Utah on September 24, 2023.
Enlarge / The OSIRIS-REx pattern return capsule, with its major parachute close by, shortly after touchdown in Utah on September 24, 2023.

Keegan Barber/NASA

This was the second Dante Lauretta had waited for almost 20 years to see. A small robotic capsule was on the best way again to Earth with rocks scooped from an asteroid, and Lauretta was wanting to get his fingers on the samples.

Led by Lauretta, scientists fastidiously designed the billion-dollar mission to convey house items of a carbon-rich asteroid thought to include natural molecules, the constructing blocks vital for all times to take maintain. This NASA mission, recognized by the acronym OSIRIS-REx, launched from Earth in 2016, collected samples from a roughly 1,600-foot-wide (500-meter) asteroid named Bennu in 2020, then set a course for return to Earth.

On September 24, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft launched the canister containing the asteroid samples to plunge into the Earth’s ambiance, whereas the mothership steered onto a course to take it safely again into deep house for a follow-up mission to discover a distinct asteroid on the finish of the 2020s.

Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx’s principal investigator from the College of Arizona, was a passenger in a US navy helicopter circling the capsule’s touchdown zone within the Utah desert. A warmth defend protected the capsule from temperatures that constructed as much as greater than 5,000° Fahrenheit throughout reentry.

Then, a small drogue parachute was imagined to open to stabilize the 32-inch-wide (81-centimeter) pattern return craft. About 5 minutes later, a bigger major chute would open to sluggish the capsule for a mild touchdown whereas defending the valuable asteroid materials sealed inside.

At the very least, that was the plan. Whereas OSIRIS-REx safely returned its asteroid pattern to Earth, there have been moments of excessive drama.

Out of order

For these watching NASA’s reside video protection of the OSIRIS-REx mission’s return to Earth, there have been hints that one thing was amiss. Video imagery from a NASA monitoring airplane confirmed the capsule tumbling towards the bottom at excessive velocity, properly after the purpose when the drogue parachute ought to have been seen.

Inside a close-by helicopter, Lauretta was ready for verbal updates on the standing of the capsule.

“I heard the 100,000-foot crossing, and no drogue, and the drogue chute is meant to come back out at 100,000 ft,” he recalled throughout a presentation final month to the Nationwide Academies’ Area Research Board. “Sixty-thousand ft, no drogue. I’m like, ‘Ugh, this isn’t good.'”

The final time NASA tried to convey extraterrestrial samples again to Earth, the parachute by no means opened. The robotic Genesis mission ended with an uncontrolled affect in Utah, rupturing the capsule bringing again microscopic particles collected from the photo voltaic wind. Scientists had been in a position to salvage among the specimens, but it surely wasn’t straightforward.

Lauretta referred to as a crash just like the one skilled by NASA’s Genesis mission because the “worst-case state of affairs” for OSIRIS-REx. In that occasion, scientists would want to scramble to assemble as a lot of the asteroid pattern as attainable from the Utah desert. Something salvaged would must be fastidiously checked for contamination from Earth’s soils and life-forms.

You may watch a replay of OSIRIS-REx’s touchdown under.

“We’re tumbling. We’re in a subsonic regime, and we aren’t stabilized,” Lauretta mentioned. “There’s no drogue chute deployed right here. Downside! So I used to be like making an attempt to mentally put together myself, as a result of we’re on reside TV, to get off this helicopter and cope with a crashed capsule within the desert.”

Then, Lauretta heard affirmation from the Air Pressure that the OSIRIS-REx return capsule had unfurled its major parachute.

“I used to be like, ‘What? How is that attainable?'” he mentioned. “So the principle chute deployed. The drogue chute, as we’ve been in a position to reconstruct, went one second earlier than the principle. So it got here out. It needed to come out. It was in entrance of the principle parachute within the canister, and it seems to be like there was a circuit problem.”

NASA supplied a extra detailed description Tuesday of the issue that prevented the on-time deployment of the drogue chute.

The capsule was imagined to ship an automatic sign to deploy the drogue chute at 100,000 ft, starting a roughly five-minute timer earlier than a second sign would reduce a retention wire for the drogue, permitting the bigger parachute to unfurl and full the touchdown sequence. As a substitute, at 100,000 ft, the sign triggered the system to chop the drogue free whereas it was nonetheless packed contained in the capsule, based on NASA.

At 9,000 ft, the opposite sign despatched the command to truly launch the drogue chute. However with its retention wire already reduce, the drogue instantly launched from the capsule, and the principle parachute opened as anticipated.

“The primary sign was supposed to fireplace the mortar and launch the drogue,” Lauretta mentioned. “The second sign was supposed to chop the cable to launch the principle … It seems to be like the primary sign reduce the (cable), after which the second sign fired the mortar, so it went backwards. However it labored. We had numerous margin on that major chute. It landed safely—a phenomenal pinpoint touchdown within the Utah desert.”

An investigation by engineers from NASA and Lockheed Martin, which constructed the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft and pattern return automobile, discovered that construct plans for the mission weren’t particular sufficient in instructing technicians who assembled the return capsule.

“Within the design plans for the system, the phrase ‘major’ was used inconsistently between the system that sends the electrical indicators, and the system that receives the indicators,” NASA mentioned in a written assertion. “On the sign facet, ‘major’ meant the principle parachute. In distinction, on the receiver facet ‘major’ was used as a reference to a pyrotechnic that fires to launch the parachute canister cowl and deploy the drogue.

“Engineers related the 2 mains, inflicting the parachute deployment actions to happen out of order,” NASA mentioned.

Lauretta mentioned scientists proceed analyzing the asteroid supplies delivered by OSIRIS-REx.

In a preliminary evaluation of among the mud, scientists discovered almost 5 p.c carbon by mass, and the fabric has plentiful water within the type of hydrated clay minerals. It’s extremely believable that asteroids like Bennu delivered the overwhelming majority of the water now present in Earth’s oceans, lakes, and rivers billions of years in the past.

The workforce tasked with retrieving the samples from the capsule at NASA’s Johnson Area Middle in Houston has encountered bother opening among the fasteners sealing the asteroid materials in the principle assortment chamber. Whereas the workforce labored on a brand new plan to assemble all of the asteroid specimens held inside, it used tweezers to drag out among the greatest items, together with a roughly 1.2-inch (3-centimeter) fragment straight from Bennu.

“The natural chemistry seems to be improbable,” Lauretta mentioned.


Supply hyperlink


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here