NASA has just landed on the asteroid Bennu. What you need to know about the mission


Insemination of the artist of NASA’s Osiris-Rex spacecraft while collecting a specimen from the asteroid Bennu.

NASA / Goddard / University of Arizona

editor’s Note: Osiris-Rex has touched Benue. Our coverage of the event is here. Our answers to all your questions about the mission are below.

NASA’s Osiris-Rex spacecraft brief Dropped down on a large asteroid Swiping some rocks and dust from its surface to return to Earth for study on Tuesday and NASA on Wednesday First batch of images detected. This event marks a major first for NASA and a potential boon for our understanding of science, space exploration, and the solar system.

The sample collection of Touch and-Go, or TAG, asteroid 101955 Bennu, was considered a success at approximately 3:12 min PT. NASA aired the TAG maneuver live on NASA TV and the agency’s website. You can find a livestream revatch at the end of this piece. To answer all your other questions, read on.

When did the mission begin?

Osiris-Rex as a concept has existed since at least 2004, when a team of astronomers first proposed the idea to NASA. After more than a decade of development, the spacecraft Launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida on April 8, 2016A joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, with the Atlas V rocket from the Joint Launch Alliance. The spacecraft spent the next 26 months hovering Beneau, officially arriving on December 3, 2018.

Since then, the mission team has spent nearly two years surveying and mapping its surface to select the best sampling location, orbiting a diamond-shaped space rock. In recent months, rehearsals led the sample collection effort.


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Why Bennu?

Bennu is called a “debris pile” asteroid, meaning that it formed in the deep cosmic past when gravity slowly forced the remains of an ancient collision together. The result is a body shape, like a spinning top, with a diameter of about one-third of a mile (500 m) and a surface surrounded by large rocks and boulders.

Bennu is considered a window into the solar system’s past: an ancient, carbon-rich body that carried the building blocks of both planets and life. Some of these resources, such as water and metals, may be worth mining at some point in the future for use on Earth or in space exploration.

The asteroid has another feature that makes it particularly interesting for scientists and humans in general – it is a chance to affect the Earth in the distant future. Bennu ranks No. 2 on NASA’s list of impact risks. Current data shows dozens of potential impacts in the last quarter of the 22nd century, though all have only a minute’s chance of actually passing.

How does TAG work?

For anyone who has ever dabbled with robots or perhaps even entered a robotics competition, the Osiris-Rex mission would appear to be the ultimate culmination of a young robotic’s dream. The touch-and-go sampling process is a complex, high-stakes task that has been building for a significant climatic moment over the years. If it succeeds, it will play the role of our future in history and space.

The basic plan is that Osiris-Rex will touch Benu on a rock Landing site dubbing nightbell. Vane-size spacecraft will need to negotiate building-size boulders around the landing area to touch on a relatively clear space that is only as large as a few parking spaces. However, a robotic sampling arm would actually be the only part of the Osiris-Rex to be installed on the surface. One of the three pressurized nitrogen canisters will ignite a sample of dust and small rocks to be ignited which can then be caught in the head of the hand collector to protect and return to Earth.

It will take about four hours to land on the surface of Benue, about the time it takes the asteroid to make a full revolution. Following this slow approach, the actual TAG sample collection process lasts significantly less than 16 seconds.

Preparation of TAG is not fully employed. Mission organizers initially hoped that Benue’s surface would contain potential landing spots mainly covered with fine material equivalent to sand or gravel. It turns out that Benue’s surface is extremely bumpy with no real welcoming landing spots.

After spending much of the last two years reevaluating the mission, the team attempted to “stretch the needle” through a boulder-filled landscape at Nightingale.

All this has yet to be paid. Osiris-Rex was able to touch down, But we won’t be sure if it collects a sample until later in October. Fortunately, if the tag failed, the spacecraft could try again – it is equipped with three nitrogen canisters and can obstruct the surface, meaning the team gets up to three tries to munch a specimen.

Then what?

Soon after collecting a sample of this, Osiris-Rex fires his thrusters to return them from Benue. The spacecraft will continue to hang over Benue for the rest of 2020 before manning the departing next year and embarking on a two-year journey to Earth.

On September 24, 2023, Osiris-Rex restructured his sample return capsule, which would land in the Utah desert and be recovered for study.

Has it not been done before?

Yes. In 2010, the Hayabusa spacecraft of Japan successfully returned small grains of asteroid 25143 Itokawa to Earth. Its successor is Hayabusa-2. A special copper bullet fired in the large asteroid Ryugu in 2019 And then retrieved some shrapnel. That specimen is coming back to Earth.

How can i see

CNET Highlights Channel covered the event live. You can stream the stream below:

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