NASA spacecraft to land on Bennu asteroid

James Marshall
December 3, 2018

The spacecraft, which has spent the last two years traveling to the space rock known as Bennu, will finally meet its target today, and NASA will be live streaming the event so we can all enjoy their excitement.

Finally, it will help unlock the secrets of the solar system.

'We have arrived, ' technicians announced, spurring high-fives and clapping around the control room.

Then, in 2020, it will reach out with its robotic arm and touch the asteroid in a maneuver Rich Kuhns, OSIRIS-REx program manager with Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver, described as a "gentle high-five".

The spaceship successfully made contact with the asteroid at 17.09 GMT on December 3, after travelling more than a BILLION miles through the cosmos.

In August, the craft snapped its first image of asteroid Bennu.

Japanese space agency JAXA first proved sample collection from an asteroid was possible. This could also explain how it ended up as a near-Earth asteroid. This latest rock is named Ryugu and about double the size of Bennu.

The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft arrives at the near-Earth asteroid Bennu today.

The spacecraft launched on September 8, 2016 at 19:05 EST aboard an Atlas V rocket.

After a careful survey of Bennu to characterise the asteroid and locate the most promising sample sites, Osiris-Rex will collect between 2 and 70 ounces (about 60 to 2,000 grams) of surface material with its robotic arm and return the sample to Earth via a detachable capsule in 2023.

OSIRIS-REx has a camera suite, a laser altimeter for 3D mapping, a thermal emission spectrometer to take temperature and mineral content and spectrometers to measure X-rays, almost infrared and visible light.

Scientists contend the more they learn about asteroids, the better equipped Earth will be in heading off a truly catastrophic strike. This knocked it through space until an orbit close to Earth locked it in place.

This carbon-rich asteroid could be full of organic molecules, metals, platinum and even water - the essential ingredients for life. The spacecraft will spend two years flying alongside Bennu at a distance of almost 12 kilometres from the object, regularly making physical contact to collect two kilograms of samples from the massive space rock, NASA explained. There is enough nitrogen for three attempts if the first is unsuccessful.

Scientists estimate the asteroid formed roughly 4.5 billion years ago. "When we understand Bennu, we will understand something fundamental about our solar system".

'Some of the mineral fragments inside Bennu could be older than the solar system. These microscopic grains of dust could be the same ones that spewed from dying stars and eventually coalesced to make the Sun and its planets almost 4.6 billion years ago'.

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