NASA’s initial asteroid-sampling thought has arrived during a destination, though it still has a lot of prep work forward before a booster can punch into a space rock.
Yesterday (Dec. 3), NASA’s OSIRIS-REx probe sidled adult to a diamond-shaped target, a near-Earth asteroid Bennu, finale a deep-space follow that lasted 27 months and lonesome some-more than 1.25 billion miles (2 billion kilometers).
The categorical thought of a $800 million OSIRIS-REx thought involves snagging a sizeable representation of asteroid element and returning it to Earth in 2023. But a booster is distant from prepared to collect any space-rock rubble. Indeed, OSIRIS-REx isn’t even in circuit around a 1,650-foot-wide (500 meters) Bennu yet; it’s now drifting alongside a asteroid, only commencement to take a magnitude in detail. [OSIRIS-REx: NASA’s Asteroid Sample-Return Mission in Pictures]
OSIRIS-REx will continue doing this over a subsequent 4 weeks, during tighten flybys over Bennu’s north pole, equator and south stick that will move a examine as tighten as 4.4 miles (7.1 kilometers) to a asteroid’s surface.
Mission group members wish to make certain they spike down Bennu’s mass and accurate figure before slipping into circuit around a asteroid on Dec. 31. And there’s a really good reason for that.
Although Bennu has been characterized good by ground-based instruments over a years, “maneuvering around a tiny physique that fundamentally has no sobriety is a really severe endeavor,” OSIRIS-REx Deputy Principal Investigator Heather Enos, of a University of Arizona, told Space.com. “So, we do have to get a tiny some-more information to ensue each step of a way.”
To give we an thought of only how ethereal a New Year’s Eve operation will be: OSIRIS-REx will be relocating only 4 inches (10 centimeters) per second relations to the asteroid Bennu when it achieves circuit around a rock, thought group members have said.
OSIRIS-REx will set a record for a closest stretch that a booster has ever orbited a tiny body, Enos added. The examine will get within only 1 mile (1.6 km) of Bennu’s aspect on Dec. 31, she said.
The gait won’t speed adult after orbital insertion. OSIRIS-REx will spend another 18 months rigorously scouting for a best place to obstacle a sample. The thought group expects to slight a possibilities to dual sites by Jul 2020, that is when a representation collection is scheduled to take place.
On a allocated day, OSIRIS-REx will turn down and daub Bennu with a Touch-And-Go-Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM), sucking adult during slightest 2 ounces (60 grams) of material. The scheme will be some-more of a lick than a landing, durability only 5 seconds or so.
OSIRIS-REx — whose name stands for “Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer” — won’t leave Bennu until Mar 2021, when a examine will conduct behind toward a home planet. The asteroid representation will hold down in Utah, tucked inside a special lapse capsule, in Sep 2023.
Researchers in labs around a universe will afterwards pore over a space things with a accumulation of high-tech rigging — big and costly apparatus that could never have fit aboard OSIRIS-REx (which does competition 5 scholarship instruments of a own). Such analyses will residence a arch thought goal: assisting researchers improved know a solar system’s early days, and a purpose that carbon-rich asteroids such as Bennu might have played in life’s presentation on Earth.
The information collected by OSIRIS-REx will infer useful in a accumulation of other ways as well, thought group members have said. For example, a probe’s measurements, and those of researchers study a returned sample, should exhibit a good understanding about a apparatus intensity of Bennu-like asteroids.
And OSIRIS-REx’s accurate tracking of Bennu by space will assistance researchers improved know a non-gravitational army (specifically, the Yarkovsky effect) that figure asteroids’ trajectories. Such work could urge asteroid-impact forecasts, NASA officials have said.
“The best times are forward of us, so stay tuned,” OSIRIS-REx Principal Investigator Dante Lauretta, also of a University of Arizona, pronounced in a statement. “The scrutiny of Bennu has only begun, and we have a lifetime of journey forward of us.”
Mike Wall’s book about a hunt for visitor life, “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate) is out now. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us @Spacedotcom or Facebook. Originally published on Space.com.