NASA probe touches asteroid Bennu

Rodiano Bonacci
Ottobre 22, 2020

But as early as now, the space agency has already begun constructing a state-of-the-art facility for the study and storage of the asteroid specimen.

NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission readies itself to touch the surface of asteroid Bennu.

The arm reached out to collect a sample, which could be between 2 ounces and 2 kilograms. Then, the spacecraft backed away to safety. He said he feels "transcendent" and the team is "exuberant" based on the current data. The image is overlaid with the graphic of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to illustrate the scale of the site. Regardless of the number of attempts required, samples will not return to Earth until 2023 to close a mission valued at over $ 800 million.

But this team found Bennu was an even bigger challenge than they anticipated.

NASA is expected to hold a news conference Wednesday to share early images from the maneuver, which will determine if the sampling attempt was successful.

Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for Nasa's Science Mission Directorate at its Washington HQ, called the mission "an incredible feat".

Osiris-Rex is scheduled to come back home to us in 2023, with a payload of space rocks weighing at least 60 grams - tiny by mass, but massive by weight. It is a "wreckage" group of rocks collected by gravity rather than a single unit.

Mission - which means segmentation, spectral interpretation, resource identification, security-regolith explorer - was launched in September, 2016. If more samples are needed, it may make another descent in January, but it will take roughly a week to confirm how much material was collected in the first touchdown maneuver.

Lauretta also explained in the NASA livestream that asteroid Bennu is considered a hazardous asteroid.

Another benefit: Bennu has a slight chance of hitting the ground late in the next century, although not as a life terminator.

"It's going to be another big day for us, but it's a totally important event right now", said NASA scientist Lucy Lim.

It will be some time, though, before the project team knows how much material it collected. This head is the only part of the spacecraft that touched Bennu.

Because of the distance, the NASA team on Earth saw the events with an 18 1/2-minute delay.

The spacecraft performed the entire sequence of approaching the asteroid and collecting the sample autonomously, which lasted about 4.5 hours.

When the spacecraft was hovering just 125 meters above the surface, it began the specific "Touch-and-Go" (TAG) manoeuvre to precisely target the sample collection site, known as "Nightingale".

"I'm really excited to see the sample and interact with it", Nicole Lunning, one of the asteroid curation scientists from ARES, said in a statement on NASA's website Tuesday.

The spacecraft then transited across the asteroid while descending about 805 metres towards the surface. The spacecraft was programmed to shoot out pressurized nitrogen gas to stir up the surface, then suck up any loose pebbles or dust, before backing away. The team compares it to an air filter in an older model auto, flawless for collecting fine material.

Later, the spacecraft will reorient the sampling arm so that it can peer at the sample head with its onboard camera.

The area, which is 52 feet in diameter, will make for a more demanding landing than expected, Kenneth Getzandanner, OSIRIS-REx flight dynamics manager at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, said in the news conference. If all goes well, this model will be explored by scientists for generations to come.

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