UArizona Scientists Will Test Mars Exploration Drones in Iceland with $3 Million NASA Grant

TUCSON, Ariz. — A team of scientists led by Christopher Hamilton of the University of Arizona is gearing up to send drones on exploration missions across a vast lava field in Iceland to test a next-generation Mars exploration concept.

Hamilton is the principal investigator on a project that has been awarded a $3.1 million NASA grant to develop a new concept combining rovers and unmanned aerial systems, commonly known as drones, to explore regions of the red planet that have been previously inaccessible. These new Rover–Aerial Vehicle Exploration Networks will be tested in Iceland to explore volcanic terrains similar to those observed on Mars.

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Canada’s Top Space Highlights of 2020

Credit: Canadian Space Agency

LONGUEUIL, Que. (CSA PR) — It’s an understatement to say that 2020 was an exceptional year. As the year draws to a close, here’s a look at some of the most compelling, inspirational and incredible moments for Canada in space. Happy New Year!

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NASA Perseveres Through Pandemic to Complete Successful 2020

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — In 2020, NASA made significant progress on America’s Moon to Mars exploration strategy, met mission objectives for the Artemis program, achieved significant scientific advancements to benefit humanity, and returned human spaceflight capabilities to the United States, all while agency teams acted quickly to assist the national COVID-19 response.

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Asteroid Ryugu Dust Delivered to Earth; NASA Astrobiologists Prepare to Probe It

Artist’s concept of a NASA spacecraft speeding toward a rendezvous with an asteroid. (Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

By Lonnie Shekhtman
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

GREENBELT, Md. — On Dec. 6 local time (Dec. 5 in the United States), Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa2 dropped a capsule to the ground of the Australian Outback from about 120 miles (or 200 kilometers) above Earth’s surface. Inside that capsule is some of the most precious cargo in the solar system: dust that the spacecraft collected earlier this year from the surface of asteroid Ryugu.  

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An Exciting Day for Science and Exploration

Hayabusa2 capsule with parachute in the Woomera Prohibited Area. (Credit: JAXA)

by Thomas Zurbuchen
Associate Administrator, NASA Science Mission Directorate

Today marks an exciting and historic event as precious samples from asteroid Ryugu have been brought to Earth by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) Hayabusa2 mission. This is an extremely challenging endeavor and we commend and congratulate Japan on being not only the first nation that has been able to carry out a successful asteroid retrieval mission, but to now have done so for the second time!

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NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Successfully Stows Sample of Asteroid Bennu

The left image shows the OSIRIS-REx collector head hovering over the Sample Return Capsule (SRC) after the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism arm moved it into the proper position for capture. The right image shows the collector head secured onto the capture ring in the SRC. Both images were captured by the StowCam camera. (Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/Lockheed Martin)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission has successfully stowed the spacecraft’s Sample Return Capsule (SRC) and its abundant sample of asteroid Bennu. On Wednesday, Oct. 28, the mission team sent commands to the spacecraft, instructing it to close the capsule – marking the end of one of the most challenging phases of the mission.

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NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft Goes for Early Stow of Asteroid Sample

This illustration shows NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft stowing the sample it collected from asteroid Bennu on Oct. 20, 2020. The spacecraft will use its Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) arm to place the TAGSAM collector head into the Sample Return Capsule (SRC). (Credits: NASA/University of Arizona, Tucson)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission is ready to perform an early stow on Tuesday, Oct. 27, of the large sample it collected last week from the surface of the asteroid Bennu to protect and return as much of the sample as possible.

On Oct. 22, the OSIRIS-REx mission team received images that showed the spacecraft’s collector head overflowing with material collected from Bennu’s surface – well over the two-ounce (60-gram) mission requirement – and that some of these particles appeared to be slowly escaping from the collection head, called the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM).

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NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft Collects Significant Amount of Asteroid

Captured by the spacecraft’s SamCam camera on Oct. 22, 2020, this series of three images shows that the sampler head on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is full of rocks and dust collected from the surface of the asteroid Bennu. They show also that some of these particles are slowly escaping the sampler head. Analysis by the OSIRIS-REx team suggests that bits of material are passing through small gaps where the head’s mylar flap is slightly wedged open. The mylar flap (the black bulge on the left inside the ring) is designed to keep the collected material locked inside, and these unsealed areas appear to be caused by larger rocks that didn’t fully pass through the flap. Based on available imagery, the team suspects there is plentiful sample inside the head, and is on a path to stow the sample as quickly as possible. (Credits: NASA)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — Two days after touching down on asteroid Bennu, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission team received on Thursday, Oct. 22, images that confirm the spacecraft has collected more than enough material to meet one of its main mission requirements – acquiring at least 2 ounces (60 grams) of the asteroid’s surface material.

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Amazing Video of OSIRIS-REx Collecting Samples on Asteroid Bennu

By Brittany Enos
University of Arizona

Captured on Oct. 20, 2020 during the OSIRIS-REx mission’s Touch-And-Go (TAG) sample collection event, this series of images shows the SamCam imager’s field of view as the NASA spacecraft approaches and touches down on asteroid Bennu’s surface, over 200 million miles (321 million km) away from Earth. The sampling event brought the spacecraft all the way down to sample site Nightingale, touching down within three feet (one meter) of the targeted location. The team on Earth received confirmation at 6:08 p.m. EDT that successful touchdown occurred. Preliminary data show the one-foot-wide (0.3-meter-wide) sampling head touched Bennu’s surface for approximately 6 seconds, after which the spacecraft performed a back-away burn.

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NOVA “Touching the Asteroid” Premieres Wednesday, October 21 at 9 p.m. ET/8C on PBS

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission readies itself to touch the surface of asteroid Bennu. (Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)

BOSTON (PBS PR) —TOUCHING THE ASTEROID, a one-hour NOVA special about the daring and unprecedented space mission to grab a piece of a near-Earth asteroid, premieres on PBS on Wednesday, October 21 at 9 p.m. ET/8C on PBS. The program will also stream on NOVA’s YouTube channel.

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NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft Successfully Touches Asteroid

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission readies itself to touch the surface of asteroid Bennu. (Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft unfurled its robotic arm Tuesday, and in a first for the agency, briefly touched an asteroid to collect dust and pebbles from the surface for delivery to Earth in 2023.

This well-preserved, ancient asteroid, known as Bennu, is currently more than 200 million miles (321 million kilometers) from Earth. Bennu offers scientists a window into the early solar system as it was first taking shape billions of years ago and flinging ingredients that could have helped seed life on Earth. If Tuesday’s sample collection event, known as “Touch-And-Go” (TAG), provided enough of a sample, mission teams will command the spacecraft to begin stowing the precious primordial cargo to begin its journey back to Earth in March 2021. Otherwise, they will prepare for another attempt in January.

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NASA Johnson Builds Labs to Study New Asteroid Samples, Cosmic Mysteries

A rendering of the new asteroid lab being built at Johnson Space Center. When the samples are returned to Earth in 2023 they will be brought to this lab for curation and initial examination. (Credit: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — When the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft touches asteroid Bennu, it will capture NASA’s first sample from an asteroid and provide rare specimens for research that scientists hope will help them shed light on the many mysteries of our solar system’s formation.

The sample is scheduled for return to Earth in 2023 to be examined and stored in state-of-the-art curation facilities now under construction at Johnson Space Center in Houston. The labs will be managed by NASA’s Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science division, also known as ARES. The division is home to the world’s greatest astromaterials collections — including lunar rocks, solar wind particles, meteorites, and comet samples — and some of the experts who research them.

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Ten Things to Know About Bennu

The Nightingale Crater on asteroid Bennu is the primary sample collection site for NASA’s OSIRIS-REx’s mission. The image is overlaid with a graphic of the spacecraft to illustrate the scale of the site. (Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — NASA’s first mission to return a sample from an ancient asteroid arrived at its target, the asteroid Bennu, on Dec. 3, 2018. This mission, the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-REx, is a seven-year long voyage set to conclude upon the delivery to Earth of at least 2.1 ounces (60 grams) and possibly up to almost four and a half pounds (two kilograms) of sample.

It promises to be the largest amount of extraterrestrial material brought back from space since the Apollo era. The 20-year anniversary of the asteroid’s discovery was in September 2019 — and scientists have been collecting data ever since. Here’s what we already know (and some of what we hope to find out) about this pristine remnant from the early days of our solar system.

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Canadian Instrument on OSIRIS-REx Took Most Detailed 3D Measurements of Any Celestial Body Ever Explored

An OLA scan that was taken over 5.5 minutes and contains 3,342,748 measurements. Shadows are in areas that were not visible from the perspective of OLA. (Credit: NASA/University of Arizona/Canadian Space Agency/York University/MDA)

LONGUEUIL, Quebec (CSA PR) — In a detailed study published today, Canadian scientist  Michael Daly (York University) and his team revealed that the data gathered by Canadian OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA) enabled new insights into near-Earth asteroid Bennu. The paper is part of a special collection on Bennu appearing today in Science and Science Advances.

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NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Unlocks More Secrets from Asteroid Bennu

by Brittany Enos
University of Arizona

NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission now knows much more about the material it’ll be collecting in just a few weeks. In a special collection of six papers published today in the journals Science and  Science Advances, scientists on the OSIRIS-REx mission present new findings on asteroid Bennu’s surface material, geological characteristics, and dynamic history. They also suspect that the delivered sample of Bennu may be unlike anything we have in the meteorite collection on Earth.

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