NASA is on another mission and this time it’s an effort to touch down on a large asteroid and then gather some rocks and dusk samples from its surface which will then be brought back to Earth this coming week. The reason is to conduct scientific researches on the foreign resources gathered.
This will in fact be the first of such for NASA and will further show how well equipped modern science is when it comes to space exploration and the understanding of the solar system. The mission will be via the NASA’s Osiris-Rex spacecraft which will make the brief touch-down next week.
The touch down will take place on the asteroid 101955 Bennu on Tuesday, Oct. 20th at about 3:1pm PT and the organization will broadcast the touch-and-go (TAG) maneuver live via NASA TV and other agency’s website starting at 2 p.m. PT Tuesday. Below is a simple breakdown about everything you need to know about the mission and the Osiris-Rex spacecraft.
The commencement of the mission
The idea of the Osiris-Rex had been proposed way back in 2004 by a team of astronomers and had since existed as a concept before the spacecraft finally launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida on Sept. 8, 2016, atop an Atlas V rocket from United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing. The spacecraft spent the next 26 months cruising to Bennu, officially arriving on Dec. 3, 2018.
Since that period, the mission team had spent the next two years orbiting the diamond-shaped asteroid while surveying and mapping its surface to select the best sampling spot until recently when the team had been able to identify a spot to conduct their TAG maneuver with Bennu.
The reason Bennu was picked
Bennu is what’s called a “rubble pile” asteroid, meaning it was formed in the deep cosmic past when gravity slowly forced together remnants of an ancient collision. The result is a body shaped something like a spinning top with a diameter of around a third of a mile (500 meters) and a surface strewn with large rocks and boulders.
The asteroid is thought of as the gateway to the past of our solar system which is the essential place that life actually formed as well as other celestial bodies which hover around it.
Our solar system is very rich in resources which can be eventually useful t some times in the near or later future. The asteroid in question has some characteristics which makes it interesting to scientists and all of us and that is because it has a chance of impacting Earth in a distant future.
Bennu actually ranked number 2 on NASA’s list of impact risks asteroid on Earth at a later period. Current data shows dozens of potential impacts in the final quarter of the 22nd century, although all only have a minute chance of actually coming to pass.
How the maneuver will work
The basic plan is to touch-down on Bennu at a rocky landing site which is being dubbed the Nightingale then the spacecraft will use its robotic arms to set on the surface and then collect samples which will be keptto be brought back to Earth.
The descent to the surface of Bennu will take roughly four hours, about the time it takes the asteroid to make one full revolution. After this slow approach, the actual TAG sample collection procedure remarkably lasts less than 16 seconds.
Preparing for TAG has not gone exactly as planned. Mission organizers initially hoped the surface of Bennu would have plenty of potential landing spots covered primarily with fine materials comparable to sand or gravel. It turns out the surface of Bennu is extremely rugged with no real welcoming landing spots.
After spending much of the last two years reevaluating the mission, the team decided to try “threading the needle” through the boulder-filled landscape at Nightingale and a couple other backup sample sites. It’s still possible the surface will prove to be too rocky to get a good sample. If this turns out to be the case, the team may opt to try again at a different site. Osiris-Rex is equipped with three nitrogen canisters to fire and disrupt the surface, which means the team gets up to three tries at nabbing a sample.
We;ll get results by 2023
When the samples have been collected, the Osiris-Rex will then fire its thrusters to move away from Bennu and then continue to hang around the Bennu throughout the year before it finally performs a departure maneuver by 2021 and then start a two-year journey back to Earth.
On Sept. 24, 2023, Osiris-Rex is scheduled to jettison its sample return capsule, which will land in the Utah desert and be recovered for study.
Any similar mission in the past
There was the Japanese Hayabusa spacecraft which successfully returned tiny grains of the asteroid 25143 Itokawa back to Earth in the year 2010 and then there was the Hayabusa-2 which also successfully fired a special copper bullet at the large asteroid Ryugu in 219 before retrieving some of the shrapnel all samples were brought back to Earth.
In order to watch the event, you can livestream via NASA’s website as the event kicks off on Tuesday at 2 p.m. PT. You can also follow the Osiris-Rex Twitter feed to get the latest updates.