The mission — which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Useful resource Identification, Safety-Regolith Explorer — is NASA’s first asteroid pattern return mission. It launched in September 2016 and can spend two years up shut and private with Bennu. First photos of the asteroid from the spacecraft’s perspective have appeared because it obtained nearer and nearer.
On Tuesday, the spacecraft will fly inside 5 miles of Bennu, which is able to assist design future orbits and map the floor.
Over the subsequent yr, OSIRIS-REx will survey the asteroid utilizing 5 scientific devices on board the spacecraft. These devices will assist it decide a secure location from which to gather a small pattern from Bennu’s floor that might be returned to Earth in September 2023.
“Bennu’s low gravity gives a novel problem for the mission,” mentioned Wealthy Burns, OSIRIS-REx undertaking supervisor at NASA’s Goddard Area Flight Middle. “At roughly 0.three mile in diameter, Bennu would be the smallest object that any spacecraft has ever orbited.”
The pattern from Bennu, a near-Earth asteroid, may assist scientists perceive not solely extra about asteroids that might impression Earth however about how planets fashioned and life started.
OSIRIS-REx has a digital camera suite, a laser altimeter for 3D mapping, a thermal emission spectrometer to take temperature and mineral content material and spectrometers to measure X-rays, practically infrared and visual mild.
An arm mechanism referred to as TAGSAM will attain out to gather the pattern from Bennu’s floor, making contact with the asteroid for 5 seconds in July 2020. Throughout this contact, the arm will use a nitrogen fuel burst to fire up rock and different supplies on the floor so it will possibly seize them. There’s sufficient nitrogen for 3 makes an attempt if the primary is unsuccessful.
NASA mentioned the estimated 2.1-ounce pattern measurement equates to about 30 sugar packets price of dust and rocks.
The arm has a full vary of movement, with joints able to motion similar to shoulder, elbow and wrist joints. It was “flexed” in house for the primary time on November 14.
“The TAGSAM train is a crucial milestone, because the prime goal of the OSIRIS-REx mission is to return a pattern of Bennu to Earth,” mentioned Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator on the College of Arizona, Tucson. “This profitable take a look at reveals that, when the time comes, TAGSAM is able to attain out and tag the asteroid.”
In 2021, will probably be time for the spacecraft to basically flip round and start its two-year journey house. The pattern might be packed right into a capsule that can drop within the Utah desert in 2023.
For 2 years after the return, the pattern might be cataloged and analyzed. Afterward, 75% of the returned pattern will stay at NASA’s Johnson Area Flight Middle so it may be used for extra analysis by scientists from world wide.
Why did NASA choose Bennu out of the 780,000 recognized asteroids in our photo voltaic system?
It was found in 1999, and scientists have been finding out it ever since. The asteroid matches numerous standards that make it intriguing and handy.
Bennu is comparatively near Earth, and its orbit even crosses that of our planet, making a detailed method each six years. Although small asteroids can rotate in a short time, Bennu has a diameter only a bit larger than the peak of the Empire State Constructing and rotates comparatively slowly, every 4.three hours. This implies OSIRIS-REx can match its velocity and contact down briefly.
The asteroid may move near Earth, nearer than the moon, in 2135, with even nearer approaches potential in 2175 and 2195. A direct hit is unlikely, however the information gathered throughout this mission might help decide the perfect methods to deflect near-Earth asteroids.
The asteroid can also be outdated and well-preserved, stuffed with beneficial supplies which will even include clues about how life started. Bennu is actually a leftover from the formation of our photo voltaic system billions of years in the past, though a few of the minerals inside it could possibly be even older.
This carbon-rich asteroid could possibly be stuffed with natural molecules, metals, platinum and even water — the important components for all times. It is due to objects like Bennu that these sources had been delivered to Earth throughout its formation.
Asteroids may even function gas stations for robotic and human missions if we will unlock the hydrogen and oxygen inside them, NASA mentioned.
Bennu in all probability broke off of a bigger asteroid within the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter a pair billion years in the past. This knocked it via house till an orbit near Earth locked it in place. And Bennu is believed to be a grouping of rocks held collectively by gravity quite than a single object.
However its orbit drifts 0.18 miles every year towards the solar, and OSIRIS-REx will allow researchers to grasp why and to foretell Bennu’s actions. This might additionally clarify the way it ended up as a near-Earth asteroid.
“The story of this asteroid is the story of the photo voltaic system,” mentioned Bashar Rizk, instrument scientist for OSIRIS-REx. “After we perceive Bennu, we’ll perceive one thing basic about our photo voltaic system.”