REx Samples Asteroid Bennu

Pablo Tucker
November 22, 2020

- NASA's Osiris-Rex probe unfurled its robotic arm last night and successfully touched an asteroid to collect dust and pebbles from its surface, the US space agency said.

Not all samples will be analyzed immediately, like those brought back from the Moon by the Apollo astronauts, which NASA is still opening up 50 years later. The goal of the project is to deliver rock samples of this body to Earth for a comprehensive study in laboratory conditions.

If successful, OSIRIS-REx will be commanded to begin stowing its precious cargo to begin its journey back to Earth in March 2021.

NASA is celebrating tonight after its OSIRIS-REx spacecraft successfully touched the Bennu asteroid in a bid to collect rock and dust samples from its surface. To decide whether that objective has been met, in the coming hours Osiris-Rex will move to a protected position and afterward move its arm into position to take photographs of the authority head and gauge how much mass exists in.

Bennu celebration

Last Tuesday, October 20, the OSIRIS-REx station made a series of maneuvers that allowed it to approach the asteroid and synchronize its rotation speed. But it may take a week before scientists know how much, if any, seizures have been taken, and if another attempt is needed.

OSIRIS-REx engineers and scientists will use several techniques to identify and measure the sample remotely.

Osiris-Rex eased its robotic arm down to a target zone just eight meters (26 feet) in diameter, then fired pressurized nitrogen to agitate the surface material and catch its sample.

After two years of waiting for the ideal opportunity, NASA on Tuesday will try to collect a sample from an asteroid for the first time.

In a separate development, launch vehicles, spacecraft, and in-space services provider Firefly Aerospace has successfully completed the acceptance test of the first stage of its Alpha launch vehicle for its inaugural flight later this year.

After almost two years orbiting Bennu, the spacecraft found this location had the biggest patch of particles small enough to be swallowed up.

The asteroid Bennu is now more than 200 million miles from Earth and offers scientists a window into the early solar system as it was first taking shape billions of years ago and flinging ingredients that could have helped seed life on Earth. During the maneuver, the spacecraft and the asteroid will be approximately 207 million miles (334 million km) from Earth.

"It's a historic first mission for NASA, returning an asteroid sample, and it's hard", said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, during a Monday press conference.

Another benefit: Bennu has a slight chance of hitting the ground late in the next century, although not as a life terminator. Otherwise, the mission teams will prepare for another attempt in January.

At the climax, OSIRIS-REx's collection arm touched Bennu's surface for only a few seconds. The sample capsule will parachute into the Utah desert. "This is definitely the main event of the mission at the moment", said Lucy Lim, a NASA scientist. Asteroids are remnants from that era, more than 4.5 billion years ago.

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