The NASA OSIRIS-REx spacecraft attempted to collect samples of the asteroid Bennu on Tuesday, and during a press conference on Friday (23 October), team scientists announced they were not only successful, they were wildly successful: They expected to get 60 grams of material, but instead got several hundred.
Note: You can watch a replay of the entire press conference here:
As I wrote earlier, on 20 October, the spacecraft slowly approached the surface of the asteroid. The Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (or TAGSAM) was extended on the end of a long arm. The head of TAGSAM is a cylinder about 30 centimeters across (like a large dinner plate), a sophisticated device that emits a blast of nitrogen gas to blow out material on Bennu's surface, guiding it into storage units on the inside of the head.
It was clear at the time that everything worked, but it was unclear about the details. How deep did the head go? How much material was collected?
It turns out the head went much farther into the asteroid than first thought. It made contact and one second later the nitrogen gas released for five seconds. During that time the motion of the spacecraft ...