What was the procedure for packaging SRC Osiris Rex after landing? How to keep it clean, with no dust or sand? Why was it not packed on a clean surface like a table?

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    $\begingroup$ Sorry to seem so dim, and does 'after landing' mean landing bck here on Earth, or landing on the asteroid? $\endgroup$ Sep 25, 2023 at 19:34

1 Answer 1


Not sure if this helps:


With the sample secured and the area around the sample capsule deemed safe, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx team completed the detailed and highly coordinated recovery process (which they have practiced many times in the past year). They placed the 100-pound capsule into a metal cradle and wrapped it in multiple sheets of Teflon and then a tarp. Next, the team wrapped the crate in a harness and secured it to one end of a 100-foot cable hanging from a helicopter.

Now, the capsule is being flown to a temporary clean room on base by the long-line helicopter. In the clean room, it will be disassembled and packaged in parts for transport on Monday to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, its permanent home.

scientists from NASA and University of Arizona remain at the capsule’s landing site, along with a military safety specialist and helicopter pilot. The scientists will collect soil and air samples from the area to catalog everything the capsule could have been exposed to. If any air or soil somehow made it to the sample canister inside the capsule, scientists will need to account for those contaminants when they analyze the chemical makeup of Bennu’s dust.


A U.S. Air Force munitions specialist was the first person to disembark a helicopter. His task was to identify and clear the area around the capsule of any possible munitions left over from military training. He also marked a safe approach path with small flags for the OSIRIS-REx team members who will be working with and around the capsule.

The next person to approach the capsule was a Lockheed Martin engineer who inspected the condition of the capsule and measured the gas levels just around it. She wore heat-resistant gloves in case the capsule was still hot from its interaction with the atmosphere, and a gas mask in case the capsule battery was damaged and releasing noxious gases such as sulfur dioxide.

To protect the sample from possible contamination, the Lockheed engineer secured covers over the capsule vents, which are designed to let air in, through a filter, to adjust the pressure inside the capsule as it traveled to and from space through Earth’s atmosphere. She also covered the canister where the parachutes were stored (both parachutes separated from the capsule, as planned).

The plan now is for the rest of the team to approach the capsule to pack it up for its flight to the temporary clean room on the military range.


Once the helicopter line was detached and the helicopter had departed, the clean room team removed the capsule from its metal transport cradle. They loaded the capsule onto a cart and wheeled it into the hangar where a temporary clean room had been set up. In the hangar, the capsule was fully unwrapped and cleaned, and then taken into the clean room for disassembly.   

To protect the clean room from contaminants, only six people are allowed inside. Covered from head to toe in bunny suits, hoods, nitrile gloves, shoe covers, plus hair and beard covers, their job is to disassemble the capsule and remove the unopened sample canister inside. They will package all the parts for transport by aircraft to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston on Monday morning.

Practicing for arrival:


In anticipation of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample delivery this fall, the team held our first round of rehearsals April 17 to April 27. Our goal was to practice retrieving the spacecraft’s sample capsule from a simulated landing site at Lockheed Martin’s campus near Denver.

I am the Lockheed Martin-based ground recovery lead for sample recovery operations and will help guide the team through the real-life retrieval process when the capsule – carrying pristine material gathered from asteroid Bennu – lands on the Department of Defense’s Utah Test and Training Range in the Great Salt Lake Desert on Sept. 24.

When the stakes for science are this high, it’s imperative we get it right. So, we practice! For almost two years, our team — which includes NASA, Lockheed, and University of Arizona — has been busy writing recovery procedures, thinking through every scenario that could happen to the sample capsule as it lands on Earth, and planning how to properly handle each scenario.

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A systems safety officer will be among the first on the scene. They will check for any breaches or outgassing from the capsule to assure both the area and the payload are safe and sound for a soon-to-follow entourage of personnel.

“We have created conditions that were significantly worse just to make sure that we knew how to handle any scenario,” Witherspoon says. “We expect to have the capsule back to the clean-room processing area within two hours of it being on the ground and to have it on nitrogen purge within another two hours.”

That nitrogen flush will be done to assure outside air doesn’t pollute the samples prior to relocating the capsule and its high-value contents to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Tex.







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    $\begingroup$ +1 for some really good sources, but might be worth adding summary that addresses the question - it looks like the capsule filters could handle dirt/dust but might allow atmospheric gases in so priority was to get the capsule somewhere they could connect a nitrogen purging rig onto the sealed inner sample chamber/s, rather than trying to keep dirt off the outside. Since landing site was in a desert weapons range they wanted to minimise the people and equipment needing to be at the landing site itself, hence basic wrap and flight to fixed clean room. $\endgroup$ Sep 24, 2023 at 23:11
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for the summary @GremlinWranger - yes it needed that. It initially was a pretty short answer in a dump and run as was on the go at the time. $\endgroup$ Sep 25, 2023 at 14:21

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