NASA is only hours away from the first sampling of the asteroid’s surface

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is ready four years after a seven-year mission to finally create a rapid “Touch-And-Go” (TAG) on the surface of planetary remnants likely within the first ten million years of our solar system. history.

The attempt on Tuesday to touch the surface of the steroid debris ‘101955 Bennu’ (Bennu) was NASA’s first attempt to bring back the asteroid monster. The highly successful Mission Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) won the Guinness World Record for the smallest object ever to orbit a planetary object by a spacecraft. .

If successful, Tuesday’s efforts will recover at least 60 grams of surface material from the 1614-foot asteroid before the spacecraft begins its three-year journey back to Earth.

The monster is an eye witness to the formation of the solar system [some 4.56 billion years ago] and to analyze them, it has to provide insight into the processes that were present with the emergence of the solar system, planets, and life, ”Jason Dworkin, a mission project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, told me.

Bennu is undisturbed for billions of years, so Bennu can be made from materials containing molecules that were present when life first formed on Earth, NASA said.

However, actual sampling will be much more difficult than previously planned. This is because the spacecraft is designed to work in most of the smooth surface parameters. However, since arriving at Bennu two years ago, NASA has now realized that the surface is covered with boulders and large rocks that would complicate matters.

OSIRIS-REx is designed to navigate within an area of ​​nearly 2,000 square meters in Bennu, the size of a parking lot with 100 spaces, NASA said. It must now move to a safe place on the Bennu rock face within a limit of less than 100 square meters, with an area of ​​about five parking spaces, noted the space agency.

What type of sample is best?

“Something surprising,” said Dworkin. “I wish monsters rich in complex organic compounds that tell the story of how life on Earth or elsewhere in the solar system could have formed,” he said.

During a sampling exercise on Tuesday, the spacecraft reached an altitude of about 131 feet – the closest spacecraft to Bennu – and then fired back, the University of Arizona reported. Nightingale, the spacecraft’s main sample collection site, is in a crater in Bennu’s northern hemisphere, the university said.

Around 5 p.m. Eastern Summer Time (EDT) on Tuesday, the spacecraft began a slow one-hour descent from its current orbit of about 5,500 feet to the surface. Actual contact with this old body would take less than five seconds.

Using an ingenious method of collecting samples, the spacecraft’s TAG will use an articulated positioning arm that will extend several feet from the spacecraft. The sleeve then releases a burst of nitrogen gas under pressure to stir the surface, allowing material to collect in the sample chamber.

The spacecraft will be in an autonomous program as soon as it starts descending, but its sensors will be able to detect if it’s going to get tough with shallow danger. If so, the spacecraft will automatically slide backwards to 16 feet and try again.

The good news is that no matter what happens on Tuesday, Dworkin said that OSIRIS-REx has shown how to maneuver small objects, and the navigation method can be applied to other small objects such as comets and asteroids.

And if everything goes according to plan?

We will start cataloging and analyzing samples as soon as we return on September 24, 2023, said Dworkin.

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