After two-year journey, NASA Osiris-Rex spacecraft arrives at asteroid Bennu

06 Décembre, 2018, 15:42 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • Bennu as seen on approach by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft

Bennu will be the smallest astronomical object ever orbited by a spacecraft; it's only around 1,600 feet from end to end, on average.

It is the first USA attempt to gather asteroid samples for return to Earth, something only Japan has accomplished so far.

OSIRIS-REx is going to asteroid Bennu to retrieve a sample and return it. "To Bennu and back!"

OSIRIS-REx was launched on September 8, 2016, onboard the Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The spacecraft design, a 4,650 pound craft when fueled, draws on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter heritage and was built in their Denver facility.

Scientists have estimated that in 2135 Bennu could pass closer to Earth than the moon, which orbits at a distance of about 4,02,336 km, and possibly come closer still some time between 2175 and 2195.

Mr Lauretta said scientists were interested in "organic molecules that may have led to the origin of life and water-bearing minerals like clays" in their analysis of the asteroid.

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This will be packed away in a sterile capsule to be returned home in 2023. OSIRIS REx is led by the University of Arizona and it's the first US spacecraft to visit an asteroid with plans to bring a sample of it back home. "This successful test shows that, when the time comes, TAGSAM is ready to reach out and tag the asteroid".

A Japanese spacecraft, meanwhile, has been hanging out at another near-Earth asteroid since June, also for samples.

Soon an image of the asteroid appeared on the mission control screens: a diamond-shaped body with a rough, speckled exterior. This latest rock is named Ryugu and is about double the size of Bennu.

Engineer Tim Linn explains how the Osiris-Rex will suck up asteroid dust. The spacecraft won't land but use a three-metre mechanical arm in 2020 to momentarily touch down and pick up particles. We believe it holds clues to the origins of our Mother Earth, and possibly it contains materials that are high in amino acids and carbon-rich material that give us a peek back into what really was happening during the formation of Earth and what may have brought life to Earth.

Why did NASA select Bennu out of the 780,000 known asteroids in our solar system? That makes it a near-Earth asteroid, like the one Japan's Hayabusa-2 mission is now studying. That means Bennu may resemble what Earth looked like when life began here - making this asteroid an incredibly compelling science target. At worst, Bennu would carve out a crater during a projected close call 150 years from now. The spacecraft will then make two more polar flybys, giving the team on Earth a chance to get to get comfortable with the spacecraft's navigational capabilities near Bennu.

By expanding our understanding of asteroids, the mission could also help scientists to better understand the threat that asteroids may pose to humans on Earth. Once arriving at its destination, OSIRIS-REx will spend a year-and-a-half surveying the asteroid and preparing to collect a sample that it will later return to Earth. Its odometer read 1.2 billion miles (2 billion kilometers) as of Monday.

"These observations have revealed an asteroid that is both consistent with our expectations from ground-based measurements and an exceptionally interesting small world". "Bennu is one of the ones we are watching", Dante Lauretta, the OSIRIS-REx principal investigator, said in August.

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