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Home / Science / NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission arrives at the asteroid Bennu today

NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission arrives at the asteroid Bennu today



The mission – which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security Regolith Explorer – wants to be NASA's first asteroid sample return mission. It launches in September 2016 and wants to spend two years up close and personal with Bennu.

Over the next year, OSIRIS-REx wants to make the asteroid using five scientific instruments on board the spacecraft. Bennu's surface will be returned to Earth in September 2023.

"Bennu's low gravity provides a unique challenge to the mission," said Rich Burns, OSIRIS -REx project manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "Bennu wants to be the smallest object that any spacecraft has ever orbited."

The sample from Bennu, a near-Earth asteroid, could not help scientists understand more about asteroids that could impact Earth but

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OSIRIS-REx has a camera suite , a laser altimeter for 3D mapping, a thermal emission spectrometer to take temperature and spectrometers to measure X-rays, near infrared and visible light.

An arm mechanism called TAGSAM wants to reach out to collect the sample from Bennu's surface, making contact with the asteroid for five seconds in July 2020. During this contact, the arm wants to use a nitrogen gas burst to stir rock and other materials on the surface so it can capture them. The first is unsuccessful.

NASA said the estimated 2.1-ounce sample size equates to about 30 pieces of sugar worth of dirt and rocks.

The arm has a full range of motion, with joints capable of movement to shoulder, elbow and wrist joints. It was "flexed" in space for the first time on November 14.

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"The TAGSAM exercise is an important milestone, as the prime objective of the OSIRIS-REx mission is to return a sample of Bennu to Earth," said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson , "This successful test shows that when the time comes, TAGSAM is ready to reach out and day the asteroid."

In 2021, it will be time for the spacecraft to begin its two-year journey home. 2023.

For two years after the return Afterward, 75% of the returned sample will remain at NASA's Johnson Space Flight Center.

Why did NASA select Bennu out of the 7,800,000 known asteroids in our solar system?

It was discovered in 1999, and scientists have been studying it ever since. The asteroid fits a number of criteria that make it intriguing and convenient.

Bennu is relatively close to Earth, and its orbit even crosses that of our planet, making a close approach every six years. Though small asteroids can rotate very quickly, Bennu has a diameter just a bit bigger than the height of the Empire State Building and rotates relatively slowly, each 4.3 hours. This means OSIRIS-REx can match its velocity and touch down briefly.

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The asteroid could pass close to Earth, closer to the moon, in 2135, with even closer approaches possible in 2175 and 2195. A direct hit is unlikely, but the data gathered during this mission can help determine the best ways to deflect near-Earth asteroids.

The asteroid is so old and well-preserved, full of valuable materials. Bennu is basically left over from the formation of our solar system billions of years ago, although some of the minerals inside it may have been older.

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This carbon-rich asteroid could be full of organic molecules, metals, platinum and even water – the essential ingredients for life.

Asteroids could even serve as fuel stations for robotic and human missions if they can unlock the hydrogen and oxygen inside them, NASA said.

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But its orbits drifts 0.18 miles each year toward the sun, and OSIRIS-REx wants to read Bennu's movements ,

"The story of this asteroid is the story of the solar system," said Bashar Rizk, instrument scientist for OSIRIS-REx. "When we understand Bennu, we want to understand something fundamental about our solar system."


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