will briefly contact down on a big asteroid subsequent week and seize some rocks and dirt from its floor to be returned to Earth for examine. The occasion marks a significant first for NASA and a possible boon for science, area exploration and our understanding of the photo voltaic system.
The touch-and-go (TAG) pattern assortment of asteroid 101955 Bennu is ready to go down on Tuesday, Oct. 20 at round 3:12 p.m. PT. NASA will broadcast the TAG maneuver dwell on NASA TV and the agency’s website beginning at 2 p.m. PT Tuesday. This is every little thing else you’ll want to learn about Osiris-Rex, Bennu and the way NASA plans to pickpocket an asteroid.
When did the mission start?
Osiris-Rex as an idea has been in existence since a minimum of 2004, when a workforce of astronomers first proposed the thought to NASA. After greater than a decade of growth, the spacecraft, atop an Atlas V rocket from United Launch Alliance, a three way partnership of Lockheed Martin and Boeing. The spacecraft spent the following 26 months cruising to Bennu, formally arriving on Dec. 3, 2018.
Since then, the mission workforce has spent practically two years orbiting the diamond-shaped area rock, surveying and mapping its floor to pick the perfect sampling spot. In latest months, rehearsals have begun forward of the upcoming pattern assortment try, and now the workforce says it is able to play TAG with Bennu.
Bennu is what’s known as a “rubble pile” asteroid, that means it was fashioned within the deep cosmic previous when gravity slowly compelled collectively remnants of an historic collision. The result’s a physique formed one thing like a spinning high with a diameter of round a 3rd of a mile (500 meters) and a floor strewn with giant rocks and boulders.
Bennu is considered a window into the photo voltaic system’s previous: a pristine, carbon-rich physique carrying the constructing blocks of each planets and life. A few of these sources, reminiscent of water and metals, is also price mining in some unspecified time in the future sooner or later to be used on Earth or in area exploration.
The asteroid has one different attribute that makes it significantly attention-grabbing to scientists, and people on the whole — it has an opportunity of impacting Earth within the distant future. On NASA’s list of impact risks, Bennu is ranked No. 2. Present information exhibits dozens of potential impacts within the ultimate quarter of the 22nd century, though all solely have a minute likelihood of truly coming to go.
How will TAG work?
For anybody who’s ever dabbled with robots or possibly even entered a robotics competitors, the Osiris-Rex mission would appear to be the final word fruits of a younger roboticist’s desires. The touch-and-go sampling process is a fancy, high-stakes process that is been constructing to a key climactic second for years. If it succeeds, it is going to play a job in historical past and our future in area.
The essential plan is that Osiris-Rex will contact down on Bennu at a rocky. The van-size spacecraft might want to negotiate building-size boulders across the touchdown space to the touch down on a comparatively clear area that is solely as giant as just a few parking areas. Nevertheless, a robotic sampling arm would be the solely a part of Osiris-Rex to really set down on the floor. One in every of three pressurized nitrogen canisters will fireplace to fire up a pattern of mud and small rocks that may then be caught within the arm’s collector head for protected conserving and return to Earth.
The descent to the floor of Bennu will take roughly 4 hours, in regards to the time it takes the asteroid to make one full revolution. After this sluggish strategy, the precise TAG pattern assortment process remarkably lasts lower than 16 seconds.
Getting ready for TAG has not gone precisely as deliberate. Mission organizers initially hoped the floor of Bennu would have loads of potential touchdown spots lined primarily with tremendous supplies similar to sand or gravel. It seems the floor of Bennu is extraordinarily rugged with no actual welcoming touchdown spots.
After spending a lot of the final two years reevaluating the mission, the workforce determined to strive “threading the needle” by means of the boulder-filled panorama at Nightingale and a pair different backup pattern websites. It is nonetheless doable the floor will show to be too rocky to get a great pattern. If this seems to be the case, the workforce might choose to strive once more at a unique website. Osiris-Rex is supplied with three nitrogen canisters to fireplace and disrupt the floor, which suggests the workforce will get as much as three tries at nabbing a pattern.
Instantly after gathering its pattern, Osiris-Rex will fireplace its thrusters to again away from Bennu. The spacecraft will proceed to hold round above Bennu for the remainder of 2020 earlier than lastly performing a departure maneuver subsequent 12 months and starting a two-year journey again to Earth.
On Sept. 24, 2023, Osiris-Rex is scheduled to jettison its pattern return capsule, which is able to land within the Utah desert and be recovered for examine.
Hasn’t this been completed earlier than?
Sure. Japan’s Hayabusa spacecraft efficiently returned tiny grains of the asteroid 25143 Itokawa to Earth in 2010. Its successor, Hayabusa-2, efficiently after which retrieved a few of the shrapnel. That pattern is presently on its means again to Earth.