NASA's plan to scoop up dirt from asteroid hits a snag

James Marshall
March 20, 2019

The spacecraft, called Osiris-Rex, is scheduled to descend close to the surface in the summer of 2020.

Features at the surface now suggest it could be 100 million to one billion years old, and likely originated in the main Asteroid Belt.

The team discovered that Bennu is an active asteroid, meaning it is regularly emitting a plume that spews material into space.

The discovery of plumes is one of the biggest surprises of my scientific career.

Near-Earth asteroid Bennu by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft.

The uneven heating and cooling of Bennu as it rotates in sunlight is causing the asteroid to increase its rotation speed.

'And the rugged terrain went against all of our predictions.

The mission was aiming just to get on the dart board, Burns said, but now with such hard landing circumstances, "We're going to try to hit the bullseye". They had expected it to be smoother and easier for the probe to touch. This means the planned Touch-and-Go (TAG) portion of the mission will need to be adjusted.

In February, officials from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said the Hayabusa2 probe touched down on Ryugu, fired a bullet into its surface and collected the dust before blasting back to its holding position. They said sampling from those spots poses "a substantial challenge".

'The first three months of OSIRIS-Rex's up-investigation of Bennu have reminded us what discovery is all about - surprises, quick thinking, and flexibility, ' said Lori Glaze, acting director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Ryugu is classified as a C-type asteroid, which is believed to contain organic substances and water with remnants of the primitive solar system.

OSIRIS-REx's mission planners expected to identify a clear area measuring 82 feet wide as the target for the touch-and-go.

Osiris-Rex is the first United States mission created to return a piece of an asteroid to Earth.

Scientists say the ancient asteroid could hold clues to the origin of life.

He said Ryugu's parent body was roughly 4.6 billion years old - dating from the very earliest days of our Solar System.

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

Asteroid Bennu, a leftover fragment from the violent formation of the solar system, is an extraterrestrial time capsule for space scientists.

Studying Asteroid Bennu is helping NASA scientists to understand the solar system's origins, gather data on future asteroid mining and monitor the threat asteroids pose to Earth.

NASA project manager Rich Burns said a spot will be chosen this summer and the setback won't delay the sampling.

The samples will be stowed in the probe, which will return to Earth in 2023.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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