NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission prepares for touchdown on an asteroid

NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission prepares for touchdown on an asteroid

The assortment will arise on October 20, building it NASA’s very first spacecraft to accumulate a sample from an asteroid and return it to Earth.

The OSIRIS-REx will leave Bennu in 2021 and return to Earth in September 2023 carrying about 30 sugar packets worth of product from the asteroid.

Considering that arriving in December 2018, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission has been orbiting the asteroid and mapping its surface area.

Bennu is 179 million miles from Earth, but it can be considered a near-Earth asteroid. The asteroid could go near to Earth, closer than the moon, in 2135, with even nearer techniques possible in 2175 and 2195. A direct hit is not likely, but the data collected for the duration of this mission can aid figure out the very best strategies to deflect in the vicinity of-Earth asteroids.

The samples from Bennu could support experts realize not only far more about asteroids that could affect Earth but also about how planets formed and lifestyle started.

Area tag

On Tuesday, the spacecraft worked via its TAG, or Touch-and-Go sequence, which is how it will accumulate samples from the asteroid.

OSIRIS-REx practiced its sampling sequence about 131 feet higher than the picked web-site on Bennu, named Nightingale. The web page is within a crater on the asteroid’s northern hemisphere. Then, OSIRIS-REx backed absent from the internet site.

This rehearsal took about four several hours to complete as it labored via three of the four maneuvers that will be needed to acquire a sample.

Effectively, the spacecraft experienced to conduct burns, or fireplace its thrusters, to get closer to the surface of the asteroid’s area — leaving its orbit .6 miles away from the asteroid.

NASA's plan to collect the first sample from an asteroid finds its target

Then, it executed a “Checkpoint” burn off at 410 ft away. All through this maneuver, OSIRIS-Rex can autonomously test its situation and velocity to see if it needs to make any changes before it moves closer to the asteroid.

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OSIRIS-REx then reached its “Matchpoint” burn up, the place the spacecraft matches the asteroid’s rotation so it can fly previously mentioned the sample web-site.

A NASA mission's delicate dance to collect samples from a rugged asteroid

This set the spacecraft nearer than it has ever been to the asteroid’s area, at 131 toes away. All through this close come upon, OSIRIS-REx unfolded its Contact-and-Go-Sample Acquisition Mechanism, or sampling arm to check it in the configuration it will use in October.

Devices on the spacecraft also took far more observations for science and navigation applications, which is also component of the sample assortment strategy. The new substantial-resolution photos these devices obtained will assistance the spacecraft’s All-natural Aspect Tracking steerage program target the compact sample selection internet site.

This guidance method permits OSIRIS-REx to use its on-board hazard map and steer clear of regions that could trigger hurt to the spacecraft. The prepared trajectory to get to and sample the Nightingale site demonstrates that a secure landing will be doable in October.

This image was captured on August 11 when OSIRIS-REx rehearsed above the asteroid.

Offered the distance of the spacecraft from Earth, it takes about 16 minutes for a signal sent from Earth to reach OSIRIS-REx. So commands will be sent in advance of time to the spacecraft, as properly as a command to begin this sequence, in Oct. The team tested this capability for the duration of the rehearsal.

The mission workforce also employed this rehearsal as an opportunity to make positive the spacecraft’s methods have been working commonly.

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“Lots of significant methods were being exercised throughout this rehearsal — from communications, spacecraft thrusters, and most importantly, the onboard Pure Element Tracking steering process and hazard map,” reported OSIRIS-REx principal investigator Dante Lauretta, a professor of planetary science and cosmochemistry at the University of Arizona, in a statement.

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“Now that we have concluded this milestone, we are assured in finalizing the strategies for the TAG celebration. This rehearsal confirmed that the crew and all of the spacecraft’s techniques are ready to accumulate a sample in October.”

When a great deal of the staff worked remotely, a limited amount of money of team members were being on-website at Lockheed Martin’s Room facility, NASA’s Goddard House Flight Centre and the University of Arizona and working towards health and basic safety safeguards amid the ongoing pandemic.

This artist's concept shows the spacecraft's trajectory.

In October, the spacecraft will actually arrive at the asteroid’s area and use its sampling arm to contact down for five seconds. It will release a pressurized demand of nitrogen to disturb the surface of the asteroid and obtain samples from that product. Then, it will back absent and return the samples to Earth on September 24, 2023.

Another mission, Japan’s Hayabusa-2, has collected samples from the asteroid Ryugu — which could have occur from the exact mum or dad entire body as Bennu — and is now on its way back again to Earth. Samples are predicted back by December 2020.

What we know so significantly

Since arriving at Bennu in 2018, OSIRIS-REx has exposed intriguing facts about the asteroid.

The mission — which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Source Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer — launched in September 2016.

Bennu is coated in boulders instead than the massive parts of fine-grain material that experts predicted.

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Bennu is the smallest body to at any time be orbited by a spacecraft, just a minor bit wider than the top of the Empire Point out Creating, according to NASA. Bennu has a shape similar to that of a spinning top rated, and it truly is a “rubble pile” asteroid, which is a grouping of rocks held together by gravity relatively than a solitary item.

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OSIRIS-REx’s instruments have verified that hydrated minerals, such as magnetite, are plentiful and popular on the asteroid. The asteroid is total of valuable products that could even comprise clues about how daily life began. Bennu is fundamentally a leftover from the formation of our solar process billions of many years back.

Early in the mission, the spacecraft observed unforeseen plumes of product ejecting from the asteroid into house.

Bennu in all probability originated in the main asteroid belt, getting damaged off of a more substantial asteroid in the belt among Mars and Jupiter a couple of billion decades ago. This knocked it as a result of space till an orbit near to Earth locked it in position.

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