Osiris-Rex: Nasa probe arrives at Asteroid Bennu

James Marshall
December 6, 2018

OSIRIS-REx will actually need to spend a good deal of time hanging out in orbit around Bennu before it makes its move, so today is just confirmation of the probe's arrival. The $800 million mission was launched in September of 2016, and if all goes according to plan, it will return a sample to Earth in September, 2023.

This is NASA's first mission to a near-Earth asteroid.

This picture shows the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft's view of Bennu during the final phase of its journey to the asteroid.

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.

The OSIRIS-REx mission is created to enhance our understanding of asteroids and the growth and evolution of our solar system as well as to yield insights into how life arose. OSIRIS REx is led by the University of Arizona and it's the first USA spacecraft to visit an asteroid with plans to bring a sample of it back home. Once a site is selected, the spacecraft will land for about five seconds to collect a sample of the surface material, using a burst of nitrogen gas to liberate material from the surface into the sampler head. That was the first time the arm had been extended in space, being a vital part of the process that will involve studying Bennu.

Goddard provides overall mission management, systems engineering and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. The NASA team is aiming to determine whether the potentially hazardous asteroid is, in fact, on course to impact the Earth and how we might be able to deflect or destroy it if it is.

"Now that I'm here, I'll fly around the asteroid and study it in detail". What makes Bennu so special is that it is a carbonaceous asteroid, and what that means is it's expected to be a very pristine nature.

Asteroids are left-overs from the original building blocks of the Solar System.

A Japanese spacecraft has been documenting another close-to-Earth asteroid called Ryugu since June. Those like Bennu contain natural resources, such as water, organics and metals. Scientists think it might be older than the Solar System itself, which is about 4.6 billion years ago. It's because of objects like Bennu that these resources were delivered to Earth during its formation.

"But while the spacecraft might tell us some things about where we have been and where we are headed, it also can remind us of where we are right now", NASA officials said in a statement.

Bennu probably broke off of a larger asteroid in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter a couple billion years ago. And Bennu is believed to be a grouping of rocks held together by gravity rather than a single object.

"We can't leave Bennu before March of 2021, just because we've got to wait for the orbital mechanics to line up", Dante Lauretta, the principal investigator, said in an earlier interview. OSIRIS-REx will cautiously approach its target before slipping into orbit for more than two years of scientific observations.

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".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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