NASA spacecraft touches asteroid Bennu for rare rubble grab

22 Novembre, 2020, 02:59 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • NASA lands spacecraft on asteroid Bennu

This is a priority for the United States - only Japan has previously received asteroid models.

Lunning is a scientist working alongside Righter during the initial processing of the asteroid sample.

The so-called "Touch-And-Go" or TAG maneuver was managed by Lockheed Martin Space in Denver, Colorado, where at 6:12 pm (2212 GMT) an announcer said: "Touchdown declared. Sampling is in progress", and scientists erupted in celebration.

One global partner receiving a portion of the sample is the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, which in return is giving NASA a sample from its Hayabusa2 mission to the asteroid Ryugu.

The spacecraft extended a robotic arm called Tagsam, which it used to touch the asteroid for about five seconds, eject pressurized nitrogen to stir up the surface and take a sample before gliding away.

Bennu is a carbonaceous asteroid that hasn't undergone drastic, composition-altering change, meaning that on and below its deeper-than-pitch-black surface are chemicals and rocks from the birth of the solar system.

Over the next couple of days, scientists will capture images of the asteroid material and use the spacecraft to determine the amount of collected rubble with a spin maneuver to make sure they got enough samples.

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The minivan-sized OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will send back images of the sample collected from the Bennu asteroid and, if a successful collection is confirmed, the spacecraft will journey back toward Earth, arriving in 2023.

. Now, the OSIRIS-REx team will begin to assess whether the spacecraft grabbed any material, and, if so, how much; the goal is at least 60 grams, which is roughly equivalent to a full-size candy bar. It is thought to contain the components of the solar system.

This well-preserved, ancient asteroid, known as Bennu, is now more than 200 million miles (321 million kilometers) from Earth.

Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, explained why this is such a monumental moment,"A piece of primordial rock that has witnessed our solar system's entire history may now be ready to come home for generations of scientific discovery, and we can't wait to see what comes next".

NASA's OSIRIS-REx probe reached the climax of its seven-year round trip to deep space today and briefly touched down on a near-Earth asteroid, propelled by thrusters made in the Seattle area. "We have overcome the incredible challenges this asteroid has posed on us and the spacecraft seems to have worked perfectly". To ensure that it has a sufficiently large sample, OSIRIS will first take a picture of the collector head to confirm the presence of regolith, and then on Saturday will extend its TAGSAM arm and spin on its axis like a centrifuge to measure the mass of rock and dust in the collection bin.

The Canadian Space Agency, which contributed the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA) instrument to the mission, will also be receiving some of the Bennu sample as part of this global partnership. It's been spinning around the asteroid for nearly two years, preparing for Touch and Go maneuvers.

Image of the NASA space explorer OSIRIS-REx touching down on the asteroid Bennu. Scientists believe asteroids and comets crashing into early Earth may have delivered organic compounds and water that seeded the planet for life.

"If this kind of chemistry was happening in the early solar system, it could have happened in other solar systems as well", Loretta, OSIRIS-Rex's primary investigator, told Al Jazeera in an interview ahead of Tuesday's progress. "It helps us to estimate the origin of life across the galaxy and, ultimately, across the universe". It is expected to land with the sample in 2023.

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