After 2-Year Journey, NASA Spacecraft Reaches Target Asteroid

Christopher Davidson
December 6, 2018

A rock which formed in the early solar system and has been preserved by the vacuum of space, Bennu has remained relatively unchanged since its creation.

The $800 million unmanned mission, known as OSIRIS-REx, made a rendez-vous with the asteroid at around 12:10 pm (1710 GMT), firing its engines a final time.

NASA spacecraft OSIRIS-REx arrives at an asteroid named Bennu this morning on a mission to collect a sample from the asteroid's surface and bring it back to Earth.

NASA's OSIRIS-REx probe officially arrived at the asteroid Bennu around on Monday after pursuing it for more than two years.

The spacecraft executed a maneouvre that transitioned it from flying toward Bennu to operating around the asteroid.

The OSIRIS-REx team will now map the asteroid in extremely fine detail and measure its mass.

Scientists are eager to study material from a carbon-rich asteroid like dark Bennu, which could hold evidence dating back to the beginning of our solar system 4.5 billion years ago.

"For the past several months, Bennu has been coming into focus as I approached", said NASA's OSIRIS-REx Twitter account. "Bennu is also one of the most potentially hazardous asteroids, as it has a relatively high probability of impacting the Earth late in the 22nd century". That means Bennu may resemble what Earth looked like when life began here - making this asteroid an incredibly compelling science target. OSIRIS-REx is an acronym of the mission objectives.

The sampling arm will contact the surface of Bennu for five seconds.

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The craft will obtain somewhere between 2 ounces and 4.4 pounds of soil sample from the surface of Bennu using a robotic arm that will blast the surface with a puff of nitrogen gas and collect the pieces that fly off.

This will be packed away in a sterile capsule to be returned home in 2023.

The spacecraft is slated to return to Earth in September 2023.

For two years after the return, the sample will be cataloged and analyzed.

NASA has collected comet dust and solar wind particles before, but never asteroid samples. The asteroid fits a number of criteria that make it intriguing and convenient. Every six years, Bennu passes within 185,911 miles of Earth. That's because there's a chance the asteroid could hit Earth in the future.

Osiris Rex carries a camera able to see objects as small as a penny.

A Japanese spacecraft has been documenting another close-to-Earth asteroid called Ryugu since June. This asteroid represents a threat to our planet, because in a hundred years will approach the Earth at a very unsafe distance, according to the Chronicle.info with reference to TSN.

The asteroid is also old and well-preserved, full of valuable materials that may even contain clues about how life began.

Bennu is a carbonaceous primitive B-type asteroid with a cumulative 1-in-2,700 chance of impacting Earth between the years 2175 and 2199, according to NASA's 2016 Earth Impact Risk Summary. That water or the asteroid's metals might one day serve as useful resources, so space explorers wouldn't need to bring these heavy materials with them. It's because of objects like Bennu that these resources were delivered to Earth during its formation. After jettisoning the sample, OSIRIS will redirect itself on a new course, this time entering a stable orbit around the sun.

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