After several months of orbiting the sunshine, on September 22, 2017, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx (Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer) made its closest flyby of Earth. Moving at speeds near 19,000 mph, the spacecraft passed within 11,000 miles with the planet’s surface just south of Chile, before zooming over Antarctica. The carefully orchestrated encounter was designed to make use of the Earth’s gravity that can help launch OSIRIS-REx towards a small asteroid named Bennu. Termed as the slingshot effect, or gravity assist, the ingenious method helps propel spacecrafts to great distances without expending precious fuel.
Measuring basically 500 m (1640 ft) across, Bennu could be the smallest object NASA has ever got down to orbit. Peter Antreasian, the navigation team chief from Kinet-X Aerospace accountable for obtaining space probe towards the destination, says, “The asteroid’s small size and low gravity makes OSIRIS-REx probably the most challenging mission that we been employed by on.” However, within the 7,000 Near-Earth asteroids, Bennu was considered one of only five that met the necessary criteria for distance, size, and composition. It was close enough to Earth, adequate for just a spacecraft to make contact with and, most significantly, had a primitive composition, meaning it contains the organic molecules regarded as the cornerstone of life on this planet.
The $800 million mission began in September 2016 if the spacecraft premiered to seek out Earth-Trojan asteroids – rocks which have stable positions inside the Earth’s orbit surrounding the sun. It was struggling to find any, OSIRIS-REx’s in time space allowed NASA to tweak its route to ensure it’d reach Bennu.
If all goes in line with plan, the spacecraft will enter Bennu’s orbit in August 2018 and initiate surveying the asteroid, as well as mapping out potential sampling sites. In July 2020, OSIRIS-REx can certainly make experience of the room rock for approximately 5 seconds and to push out a burst of nitrogen gas to stir up the outer lining rocks and soil, that will be instantly scooped up by way of a sampler head attached to the space probe’s robotic arm. In March of 2021, OSIRIS-REx along with its precious cargo begins right onto your pathway home, which has an expected arrival we know by September 2023.
Edward Beshore on the University of Arizona, Deputy Principal Investigator for your mission says, “By bringing this material to Earth, we can easily do a a great deal more thorough analysis than we are able to with instruments using a spacecraft, due to practical limits about the size, mass, and energy consumption with the items could be flown.” The expert adds, “We will likely set aside returned materials for generations to come to examine with instruments and capabilities we can not even imagine now.”
While this can appear like some huge cash and also to build up a tiny rock sample, it can be well worth it. As scientists think asteroids like Bennu harbor organic matter from the young solar system. Manufactured from molecules containing carbon and hydrogen atoms, they are the answer to uncovering how life first formed and finding extraterrestrial life.
Resources: NASA.gov, skyandtelescope.com,space.com