NASA scientists on Wednesday confirmed that the Osiris-Rex spacecraft had successfully made contact with an asteroid a day earlier, touching the surface for six seconds and collecting dust and rocks from its surface.
The performance of the spacecraft on the asteroid Benu, which is only the height of the Empire State Building, was remarkable. Because the asteroid is so small, its gravity is negligible, which complicates the spacecraft’s orbital maneuvers, mainly debris.
Despite these challenges, on Tuesday, NASA engineers and scientists programmed a spacecraft to touch autonomously within one meter of target space at a distance of 320 million kilometers.
Images of the newly released collision show the spacecraft’s sample arm moving toward the asteroid at a speed of 10 cm per second and breaking rocks beneath it when it reaches the surface.
“We literally broke it,” said Dante Loretta, chief investigator at the Osiris-Rex mission. “When the spacecraft came in contact, that rock appeared to have broken apart, which is great news.” This is because the “head” of the sample arm can only collect objects less than 2cm in diameter.
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