Wednesday, 19 December, 2018

"We have arrived!" OSIRIS-REx is officially at asteroid Bennu

This series of images taken by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft shows Bennu in one full rotation from a distance of around 50 miles. The spacecraft’s Poly Cam camera obtained the thirty-six 2.2-millisecond frames over a period of four hours and 18 Watch NASA live stream the arrival of its OSIRIS-REx asteroid probe
Theresa Hayes | 06 December, 2018, 17:50

The main goal of the $800 million OSIRIS-REx mission involves snagging a sizeable sample of asteroid material and returning it to Earth in 2023.

The craft has been travelling through space for more than two years.

Bennu is about 1,600 feet (500 meters) in diameter, about the size of a small mountain. The special broadcast will begin at 11:45 a.m.in case the space probe arrives early to 12:15 p.m. EST.

It will spend nearly a year surveying the asteroid with five scientific instruments with the goal of selecting a location that is safe and scientifically interesting to collect the sample and return it to Earth in September 2023.

For the next 18 months or so, the spacecraft will study the asteroid, exploring its terrain and gathering data that could help show how asteroids like Bennu travel through space and how they could be used as a resource. It's a critical step in OSIRIS-REx's years-long quest to collect and eventually deliver at least two ounces (60 grams) of regolith - dirt and rocks - from Bennu to Earth.

By studying Bennu, scientists could paint a more detailed picture of the early solar system and better understand how its planets formed. So we going to get a lot of information about Bennu while we're at the asteroid that will inform us in terms of ultimately where we will go to the surface to collect our sample. Scientists say the mission will tell us about the origins of the solar system and how to protect Earth from asteroid impacts. There is enough nitrogen gas for three sampling attempts, and once enough material is gathered, the sampling device will be deposited in the Sample Return Capsule.

"Our CSIRO team in Canberra and our two sister Deep Space Network stations around the world in Spain and the United States will be with the mission every step of the way".

"OSIRIS-REx seeks answers to the questions that are central to the human experience: Where did we come from?"

Bennu - named after a mythological Egyptian deity by a third-grade contest victor - is one of the most hazardous asteroids known to NASA because of its large size and orbit. That water or the asteroid's metals might one day serve as useful resources, so space explorers wouldn't need to bring these heavy materials with them. It will be the first US mission to carry samples from an asteroid back to Earth and the largest sample returned from space since the Apollo era.

To give you an idea of just how delicate the New Year's Eve operation will be: OSIRIS-REx will be moving just 4 inches (10 centimeters) per second relative to the asteroid Bennu when it achieves orbit around the rock, mission team members have said.

"But this is all dependent on the outcome of a very close approach that Bennu has with Earth in September 2135", Johnson said.

Achievement unlocked and "we have arrived", NASA announced on its official Twitter account.

Bennu, which is one of 700,000 known asteroids in the solar system, is characterized as potentially hazardous because there's a chance it could collide with Earth in the late 22nd century. Carbon is the key to the organic molecules needed for life, so finding organic molecules on a sample from Bennu would help to answer a big question about the origin of life.