NASA’s Osiris-Rex spacecraft is about to land on asteroid Bennu Tuesday: Every thing you might want to know

Artist’s conception of NASA’s Osiris-Rex spacecraft amassing a pattern from the asteroid Bennu.

NASA/Goddard/College of Arizona

NASA’s Osiris-Rex spacecraft 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 research. The occasion marks a major first for NASA and a possible boon for science, house exploration and our understanding of the photo voltaic system.

The touch-and-go (TAG) pattern assortment of asteroid 101955 Bennu is about to go down on Tuesday, Oct. 20 at round 3:12 p.m. PT. NASA will broadcast the TAG maneuver reside on NASA TV and the agency’s website beginning at 2 p.m. PT Tuesday. Here is every little thing else you might want to find out 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 staff of astronomers first proposed the concept to NASA. After greater than a decade of growth, the spacecraft launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida on Sept. 8, 2016, atop an Atlas V rocket from United Launch Alliance, a three way partnership of Lockheed Martin and Boeing. The spacecraft spent the subsequent 26 months cruising to Bennu, formally arriving on Dec. 3, 2018.

Since then, the mission staff has spent practically two years orbiting the diamond-shaped house rock, surveying and mapping its floor to pick out the perfect sampling spot. In latest months, rehearsals have begun forward of the upcoming pattern assortment try, and now the staff says it is able to play TAG with Bennu.

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Why Bennu?

Bennu is what’s known as a “rubble pile” asteroid, which means it was fashioned within the deep cosmic previous when gravity slowly compelled collectively remnants of an historical collision. The result’s a physique formed one thing like a spinning prime with a diameter of round a 3rd of a mile (500 meters) and a floor strewn with massive rocks and boulders. 

Bennu is regarded as 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, equivalent to water and metals, is also price mining sooner or later sooner or later to be used on Earth or in house exploration. 

The asteroid has one different attribute that makes it notably fascinating to scientists, and people typically — it has an opportunity of impacting Earth within the distant future. On NASA’s list of impact risks, Bennu is ranked No. 2. Present knowledge exhibits dozens of potential impacts within the remaining quarter of the 22nd century, though all solely have a minute likelihood of truly coming to cross. 

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 last word fruits of a younger roboticist’s goals. 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 task in historical past and our future in house. 

The essential plan is that Osiris-Rex will contact down on Bennu at a rocky landing site dubbed Nightingale. The van-size spacecraft might want to negotiate building-size boulders across the touchdown space to the touch down on a comparatively clear house that is solely as massive as just a few parking areas. Nevertheless, a robotic sampling arm would be the solely a part of Osiris-Rex to truly set down on the floor. Considered one of three pressurized nitrogen canisters will hearth to fire up a pattern of mud and small rocks that may then be caught within the arm’s collector head for protected maintaining 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 gradual method, 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 coated primarily with nice supplies akin 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 staff determined to attempt “threading the needle” by the boulder-filled panorama at Nightingale and a pair different backup pattern websites. It is nonetheless potential the floor will show to be too rocky to get an excellent pattern. If this seems to be the case, the staff could choose to attempt once more at a distinct website. Osiris-Rex is supplied with three nitrogen canisters to fireside and disrupt the floor, which suggests the staff will get as much as three tries at nabbing a pattern. 

Then what?

Instantly after amassing its pattern, Osiris-Rex will hearth 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 yr 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 research. 

Hasn’t this been executed 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 fired a special copper bullet at the large asteroid Ryugu in 2019 after which retrieved among the shrapnel. That pattern is at the moment on its means again to Earth.  

How can I watch? 

Comply with NASA’s livestream, which kicks off Tuesday at 2 p.m. PT. You may also comply with the Osiris-Rex Twitter feed to get the newest updates. 

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Anil Kumar

Anil Kumar Gadgets writes for Review Tech smartphones, wearables, headphones and speakers based in Delhi for 360 Tech News. Anil Gadgets is a reviewer for 360 Tech News and has written in detail about smartphones, software updates and upcoming devices.

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