NASA’s OSIRIS-REx probe reaches as­teroid

Space­craft sched­uled to re­turn sam­ple to Earth in 2023

The Korea Times - - SCIENCE - TAMPA (AFP)

— NASA’s first-ever mis­sion de­signed to visit an as­teroid and re­turn a sam­ple of its dust back to Earth ar­rived Mon­day at its desti­na­tion, Bennu, two years af­ter launch­ing from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

The $800 mil­lion un­manned mis­sion, known as OSIRIS-REx, made a ren­dez-vous with the as­teroid at around 12:10 p.m. (1710 GMT), fir­ing its engines a fi­nal time.

“We have ar­rived,” said Javier Cerna, an en­gi­neer at Lock­heed Mar­tin, as his col­leagues at mis­sion con­trol in Lit­tle­ton, Colorado cheered and ex­changed high-fives, ac­cord­ing to a live NASA tele­vi­sion broad­cast.

Bennu is about 1,600 feet (500 me­ters) in di­am­e­ter, about the size of a small moun­tain. It is the small­est ob­ject ever to be or­bited by a hu­man-made space­craft.

A frag­ment of the early so­lar sys­tem, Bennu is also con­sid­ered po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous. It poses a slight risk — a one in 2,700 chance — of col­lid­ing with Earth in 2135.

The car­bon-rich as­teroid was cho­sen from some 500,000 as­ter­oids in the so­lar sys­tem be­cause it or­bits close to Earth’s path around the Sun, is the right size for sci­en­tific study, and is one of the old­est as­ter­oids known to NASA.

Sci­en­tists hope it will re­veal more about the early for­ma­tion of the so­lar sys­tem, as well as how to find pre­cious re­sources like me­tals and water in as­ter­oids.

“With as­ter­oids, you have a time cap­sule. You have a pris­tine sam­ple of what the so­lar sys­tem was like bil­lions of years ago,” said Michelle Thaller, a spokes­woman for NASA’s God­dard Space Flight Cen­ter.

“That is why for sci­en­tists this sam­ple is go­ing to be far more pre­cious than even gold.”

Gen­tle high-five

The mis­sion launched in Septem­ber 2016. Over the past sev­eral months, OSIRIS REx has been creep­ing to­ward Bennu, and fi­nally reached the space rock when it was about 80 mil­lion miles (129 mil­lion kilo­me­ters) from Earth.

“For the past sev­eral months, Bennu has been com­ing into fo­cus as I ap­proached,” said NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Twit­ter ac­count.

“Now that I’m here, I’ll fly around the as­teroid and study it in de­tail.”

The space­craft is equipped with a suite of five science in­stru­ments to study the as­teroid for the next year and a half, map­ping it in high res­o­lu­tion to help sci­en­tists de­cide pre­cisely where to sam­ple from.

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.”

Us­ing a cir­cu­lar de­vice much like a car’s air fil­ter, and a re­verse vac­uum to stir up and col­lect dust, the de­vice aims to grab about two ounces (60 grams) of ma­te­rial from the as­teroid’s sur­face, and re­turn it to Earth for fur­ther study.

NASA says it may get much more ma­te­rial, per­haps up to four pounds (two kilo­grams).

The U.S. space agency hopes to use OSIRIS-REx to bring back the largest pay­load of space sam­ples since the Apollo era of the 1960s and 1970s, when Amer­i­can ex­plor­ers col­lected and car­ried back to Earth 842 pounds (382 kilo­grams) of Moon rocks.

Ja­panese space agency JAXA first proved sam­ple col­lec­tion from an as­teroid was pos­si­ble.

JAXA’s Hayabusa space­craft crash-landed into the sur­face of its tar­get as­teroid and man­aged to re­turn a few mi­cro­grams of ma­te­rial in 2010.

Once the NASA mis­sion has suc­cess­fully col­lected its space­dust from Bennu, the sam­ple will be kept in a can­is­ter and re­turned to Earth in 2023, touch­ing down in the Utah desert in late Septem­ber, NASA said.

OSIRIS-REx stands for Ori­gins, Spec­tral In­ter­pre­ta­tion, Re­source Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, Se­cu­rity-Re­golith Ex­plorer.

AFP-Yon­hap

This Sept. 11, 2016 NASA photo ob­tained Mon­day, shows a Cen­taur up­per stage lifted at Space Launch Com­plex 41 on Flor­ida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Sta­tion, where it was at­tached to the United Launch Al­liance At­las V rocket first stage booster, boost­ing NASA’s Ori­gins, Spec­tral In­ter­pre­ta­tion, Re­source Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, Se­cu­rity-Re­golith Ex­plorer, or OSIRIS-REx space­craft. NASA’s first-ever mis­sion de­signed to vis- it an as­teroid and re­turn a sam­ple of its dust back to Earth ar­rived Mon­day at its desti­na­tion, Bennu, two years af­ter launch­ing from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

AP-Yon­hap

This Nov. 16 im­age pro­vided by NASA shows the as­teroid Bennu. Af­ter a two-year chase, a NASA space­craft has ar­rived at the an­cient as­teroid Bennu, its first vis­i­tor in bil­lions of years.

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