Touch-and-Go: US Spacecraft Prepares to Grab a Sample of Asteroid

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx craft readies itself to touch the surface of asteroid Bennu

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx craft readies itself to touch the surface of asteroid Bennu

Cape Canaveral, fl. - NASA spacecraft orbiting an ancient asteroid hundreds of millions of miles away nearly two years later this week will try to land on a treacherous, rocky surface and snatch a few wrecks.

Tuesday's attempt to touch the surface of the asteroid "101955 Bennu" (Bennu) marks NASA's first effort to return a sample of the asteroid.

The van-sized spacecraft is aimed at the relatively flat middle of a tennis court-sized abyss called the Nightingale - a place comparable to a few parking lots on Earth. Boulders as big as buildings loom over the targeted touchdown zone.

The artist's eclipse of NASA's Osiris-Rex spacecraft is collecting samples from the ocean floor.

Once out of its half-mile (0.75 km high) orbit around Penn, the spacecraft will deliberately take four hours. Video filmed on Friday shows hazy and polluted skies.

By comparison, he said, the sample planned for OSIRIS-REx to collect from Bennu is far from miniscule. The contact should last five to 10 seconds, long enough to expel the pressurized nitrogen gas and absorb the dirt and gravel.

Live coverage of the spacecraft's descent toward the asteroid's surface, as well as its "Touch-and-Go" maneuver, will be provided by NASA Television and its website at 5 p.m. EDT. With an 18-minute lag in radio communication each way, ground controllers for spacecraft builder Lockheed Martin near Denver can't intervene.

Osiris-Rex has existed as a concept since at least 2004, when a team of astronomers first proposed the idea to NASA.

Although NASA has brought back particles of cometary dust and solar wind, it has never attempted to model one of the approximately 1 million known asteroids lurking in our solar system.

Japan, meanwhile, expects to get samples from asteroid Ryugu in December - in the milligrams at most - 10 years after bringing back specks from asteroid Itokawa.

The sample was an eyewitness to the formation of the solar system [some 4.56 billion years ago] Her analysis should give insight into the processes involved in the dawn of the solar system, planets and life, "Jason Dorkin, mission project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center told me". At a diameter of 1,607 feet, it is the size of the Empire State Building in NY and is said to contain ingredients of life necessary on Earth, making it a recent subject of interest for scientists.

There also are selfish reasons for getting to know Bennu better.

Bennu has been mostly undisturbed for billions of years, so Bennu could be made of material that contains molecules that were present when life on Earth first formed, NASA says. NASA puts the odds of an impact at 1 in 2,700.

When Osiris-Rex erupted in 2016 at a cost of more than $ 800 million, scientists discovered sand extensions in the pen. However, the hugely successful Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission has already achieved Guinness World Records for the smallest object ever orbited and the closest orbit of a spacecraft's planetary body.

This Aug. 11, 2020 photo shows the sampling arm of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft during a rehearsal for an approach to the "Nightingale" sample site on the surface of the asteroid Bennu.

When the spacecraft arrived in 2018, scientists were stunned to find massive rocks and chunky gravel all over the place.

With very rough terrain, the engineers aimed for a tighter space than initially expected. That pushed the sample grab to October.

NASA's first steroid sample return mission may soon see the fruits of its labor. Osiris-Rex is equipped with three nitrogen cones to ignite and degrade the surface, which means the team makes three attempts to capture a specimen.

The spacecraft automatically will back away if it encounters unexpected hazards like big rocks that could cause it to tip over.

The sampler head that will touch the asteroid is a bit larger than a dinner plate, and the goal is for it to collect anywhere from 60 grams to 2 kilograms (about 2 ounces to 4.5 pounds) of material.

Finally on the first try here, Loretta is anxious, nervous, excited, and believes that "we have done everything we can to ensure a safe model".

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