Briefly next week will touch upon a large asteroid and catch some rocks and dust from its surface to return to Earth for study. This event is a major first for NASA and a potential boon for our understanding of science, space exploration, and the solar system.
101955 Touch-and-Go (TAG) sample collection of Bennu’s asteroid 101955 is set for Tuesday October 20 at approximately 3:12 pm PT. The NASA TAG maneuver will begin live on NASA TV and the agency’s website from 2 pm PT Tuesday. Here is all you need to know about Oris-Rex, Benue and how NASA plans to pick up an asteroid.
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 spacecraftA 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 have begun before the upcoming sample collection effort, and now the team says it is set to play TAG with TANU.
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 third diameter of about one 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 carries 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 will TAG work?
For anyone who has ever dubbed a robot 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. 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 be the only part of the Osiris-Rex to actually 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 the surface of Benue would have potential landing spots mainly covered with fine material compared to sand or gravel. It is revealed that the surface of Benue is extremely bumpy with no real welcoming landing spots.
After spending much of the last two years reevaluating the mission, the team decided to try to “stretch the needle” through the boulder-filled landscape and some other backup sampling sites at Nightingale. It is still possible that the surface will prove to be too rocky to obtain a good sample. If this happens, the team may choose to try again on a different site. Osiris-Rex is equipped with three nitrogen canisters to fire and disrupt the surface, meaning that the team tries up to three to munch a specimen.
Soon after collecting its sample, Osiris-Rex will fire his thrusters back 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 is scheduled to recreate his sample return capsule, which will land in the Utah desert and be recovered for study.
Has it not been done before?
Yes. Japan’s Hayabusa spacecraft successfully returned to Earth a small asteroid 25143 Itokawa in 2010. Its successor, Hayabusa-2, successfullyAnd then retrieved some shrapnel. That specimen is currently coming back to Earth.
How can i see
Follow NASA’s livestream, which closes at 2 pm PT on Tuesday. You can also follow e Osiris-Rex Twitter Feed To get the latest updates.