The OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return capsule landed back on Earth on Sunday and the procedure to safely collect the sample from its belly has begun. The capsule was taken to NASA's Johnson Space Center where its lid was opened inside a special glovebox to ensure no contamination. Inside NASA has found what it called "black dust and debris", and they haven't even opened the main container yet.
The capsule has brought roughly 250 grams of pristine material from asteroid Bennu, the largest collection of cosmic material from beyond the Moon. Yesterday the team removed the lid of the science canister revealing the dark powder and sand-sized particles inside, most likely from the asteroid as well. This bodes extremely well for the yet-to-be-opened Touch and Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM).
The TAGSAM is the instrument used to collect the material from Bennu's surface and it requires a very intricate disassembly. The material will be kept as isolated as possible and the whole procedure has been rehearsed many times over the last few months.
“These operations are happening in a new laboratory designed specifically for the OSIRIS-REx mission. The aluminum lid was removed inside a glovebox designed to enable working with the large piece of hardware,” Shaneequa Vereen, from NASA’s Johnson Space Center, wrote in a blog post.
Next, the TAGSAM will be separated from the rest of the canister and it will be transferred to its own special glovebox to be opened. The procedure will have the TAGSAM moved to a sealed transfer container. Nitrogen will be continuously pumped through the container as it is an inert gas that doesn’t react and so is used to keep oxygen and moisture away.
“There is a very high level of focus from the team — the sample will be revealed with an amazing amount of precision to accommodate delicate hardware removal so as not to come into contact with the sample inside,” Vereen said.
The big reveal will actually happen live. NASA will stream a special broadcast on October 11 at 11am ET (3pm UTC) showing the complete disassembly process of the TAGSAM and the reveal of the sample. You can view it on NASA TV and across the agency’s online channels and social media.