NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft arrives at asteroid

Federico Mansilla
Diciembre 6, 2018

NASA's robotic explorer Osiris-Rex successfully arrived on Monday at the ancient asteroid Bennu, following a two-year journey.

It's the first spacecraft to orbit such a small object, but it won't be the first to make contact: Japan brought back an asteroid sample in 2010.

OSIRIS-Rex (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer), if successful, will be the first USA spacecraft to return an asteroid sample to Earth. At worst, Bennu would carve out a crater during a projected close call 150 years from now. That was the first time the arm had been extended in space, being a vital part of the process that will involve studying Bennu.

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.

Why Did NASA Send OSIRIS-REx to Bennu?

It is also the first mission to study a potentially hazardous asteroid and try to determine the factors that alter their courses to bring them close to Earth.

OSIRIS-REx may be able to aid in preventing such events.

The arm has a full range of motion, with joints capable of movement comparable to shoulder, elbow and wrist joints.

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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. The sample will be packed into a capsule that will drop in the Utah desert in 2023. Some of that material, at least two ounces and up to 4.4 pounds, will be trapped in filters for return to Earth.

Researchers will have more information about the asteroid from the spacecraft soon and present the updated details at a scientific meeting on Monday next week in Washington.

'Bennu is a leftover fragment from the tumultuous formation of the solar system, ' NASA says. The asteroid fits a number of criteria that make it intriguing and convenient. (Relax. They don't think it will.) Its closest approach to Earth is every six years and it orbits the Sun on the same plane as Earth.

Although Bennu has been characterized well by ground-based instruments over the years, "maneuvering around a small body that basically has no gravity is a very challenging endeavor", OSIRIS-REx Deputy Principal Investigator Heather Enos, of the University of Arizona, told Space.com. To that end, the College of Optical Sciences, which helped design some of OSIRIS-REx's cameras in conjunction with the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory and Steward Observatory, recently received a $20 million endowment.

The data will help unveil more about the origins of the solar system and how to protect the Earth from a possible asteroid impact.

NASA scientists suspect Bennu might contain bounties of valuable resources that can be used for future deep space exploration.

Bennu probably broke off of a larger asteroid in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter a couple billion years ago. It orbits the sun at roughly the same distance as Earth. Specifically, Bennu holds clay deposits, and embedded in clay is water. This could also explain how it ended up as a near-Earth asteroid.

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