May 13, 2016 by Rob Hurlbut
OSIRIS-REx Inside Lockheed Martin Clean Room
NASA Social is a program that invites the social media followers of NASA to get up close and personal with what is going on with our space program, learn about missions and meet the people that make a living from science. This particular event was a chance to see the OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample-collecting spacecraft. This is a craft that will be blasted into space on an Atlas rocket, transit to a 540 yard wide asteroid named Bennu, collect a sample from the surface of the asteroid and them bring that sample back to Earth for analysis. Yeah, we have people right here in Denver that figured out how to do all that and I got to photograph their work and talk to them! The photo above shows the clean room where the craft is assembled and prepped for launch. The spacecraft is on the right, in the position it will be in when it is launched.
Lockheed Martin Scientists & Engineers
I’ll do my best to explain what the craft is, who’s building it and what it mean to us humans to get a look at a pristine sample of a 4.5 billion year old piece of matter. First, the name of the mission is: OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Sample Return Mission. OSIRIS-REx is an acronym that incorporates the mission’s major concepts and goals.
O – Origins
SI – Spectral Interpretation
RI – Resource Identification
S – Security
REx – Regolith Explorer
Demonstration Of Asteroid Touch & Go Manuever
Lockheed Martin has built the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft and that includes the sampling system and the sample return capsule at their campus in Littleton, Colorado. The science instruments come from various space agencies and universities. While the timeline from launch to sample return will take 7 years, the actual sample collection will only take a few seconds. What you see on the photo above are 3D printed models of the craft and the asteroid (not to scale) as they will appear when the craft gets ready to collect the sample. The small arm you see extended from the craft is the only part that will touch the asteroid. It is called the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism or TAGSAM for short. It will touch down, a puff of inert gas will move surface material into the collection vessel and then the arm will deposit the vessel into the return capsule. All of that will happen in less time that it took you to read this sentence.
Up Close & Personal With TAGSAM
In the photo above there are a few cool things you’ll want to notice. In the foreground you see an actual size model of the sample return capsule. On the inside of the lid there are three clips around that small circle. It’s those clips that will grab and hold the sample recovery vessel as the TAGSAM presses it into place. The gentleman above is holding the hose that will puff the inert gas into the round recovery vessel that is sitting on the table. On game day, that small vessel will be maneuvered by the TAGSAM into that circle in the lid of the capsule. After that the capsule lid will close, detach from the craft and then make its way back to Earth, to the deserts of Utah to be exact. You may see that the part sitting on the table there, the part that will be touching the asteroid and collecting the sample looks like an air filter from a 1969 Pontiac GTO. That is because the basic principle of an automobile air filter is being used on this craft. Stones, pebbles and dust can enter one side of the filter but can’t get out on the other; simply brilliant. Notice how the wall back there is dark and rocky, kind of what you might think an asteroid might look like? I’ll explain that in a bit.
Sample Return Capsule
Here is a view of the actual sample return capsule atop the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. The craft will be in this orientation when it’s launched but it will be flipped around so the capsule and all the instruments are facing the asteroid while in orbit and as the sample is collected.
Spacecraft Testing Facility
There is a giant structure with a 45 foot tall mockup of what they believe the surface of Bennu will be like. They call it the asteroid wall and the tracks you see in the photo above are used to maneuver special machines that hold the spacecraft components while they are tested on the asteroid wall.
NASA Social Group Photo At The Asteroid Wall
We all posed for a NASA Social group shot in front of the asteroid wall. Of course I jumped out so I could get my own shot. I really have to hand it to The employees at Lockheed Martin that showed us around and kept us entertained for the entire day; they made all of us feel important a showed us things that most people will never see. OSIRIS-REx is going to track an asteroid that will be moving at 63,000 MPH, touch it, shoot a capsule full of asteroid back to Earth and show us just how far back our family tree goes. I found out about NASA Social and how to apply from Laura Keeney, an ex-journalist turned Lockheed Martin employee in Denver, Colorado. You should follow her on Twitter.
Full View Of The Clean Room
The first shot for this post and the one above were both taken from the observation deck that looks into the clean room were the spacecraft is assembled and scientific instrument are attached. While I was in there, the craft into launch position and that is shown in the video below. It took about three and a half minutes in real time but is compressed into 23 seconds, making it a little cooler. You love space, you love what NASA does and you want to own a spaceship right? Well, your foot in the door to seeing stuff you love and stuff you want to own is the NASA Social website. Look at the upcoming events and if you can travel to one of them do it! You will get to see things that will blow your mind and you’ll get to take pictures of things that most of the world will only know through YOUR photos. You write about your once in a lifetime experience and post photos on your blog and that how the rest of the world will know about it. Everything you blog about will be read and looked at for many many years.
OSIRIS-REx Rotating To Launch Position
Get in touch with and follow NASA Social and Lockheed Martin at the following places:
Apply for an event, travel somewhere cool, take photos and then post. We were made for this!