Wednesday, 19 December, 2018

REx arrives at Bennu asteroid, sends back fly-in images

This series of images taken by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft shows Bennu in one full rotation from a distance of around 50 miles. The spacecraft’s Poly Cam camera obtained the thirty-six 2.2-millisecond frames over a period of four hours and 18 Watch NASA live stream the arrival of its OSIRIS-REx asteroid probe
Cary Marshall | 06 December, 2018, 15:46

The seven-year, $800-million mission is also meant to help assess the feasibility of asteroid mining and to help scientists find ways to keep large asteroids from colliding with Earth.

NASA's Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft completed its 1.2 billion-mile (2 billion-kilometer) journey to arrive at the asteroid Bennu Monday.

Both Bennu and Ryugu are near-earth asteroid, with a diameter of about 500 meters and 900 meters respectively.

The probe will orbit the asteroid for 18 months and bring back a sample that could help explain how planets formed and may help explain how life began.

Over the next year, OSIRIS-REx will survey the asteroid using five scientific instruments on board the spacecraft.

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. As NASA studies these images the OSIRIS-REx team will decide on the best possible place to land.

This series of images taken by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft shows the asteroid Bennu in one full rotation from a distance of around 50 miles (80 km).

More news: SpaceX launches cargo, but fails to land rocket

A fragment of the early solar system, Bennu is also considered potentially unsafe. This will help scientists understand how much of a danger the asteroid presents to Earth and to draw up potential plans for diverting or deflecting Bennu if it is determined to be on a path for impact with the Earth. We only touch the asteroid for that brief, five-second sampling contact. There is enough nitrogen for three attempts if the first is unsuccessful.

Now, at about 11.8 miles (19 kilometers) from Bennu's Sun-facing surface, OSIRIS-REx will begin a preliminary survey of the asteroid. It's a time capsule of what happened as the solar system was forming.

About the size of an SUV, the spacecraft will shadow the asteroid for a year, before scooping up some gravel for return to Earth in 2023. It's expected to arrive on September 2023 and the sealed sample contained will reenter the atmosphere using a heat shield and float back to scientists via parachute into the Utah desert. The sample will be returned to Earth through a freefall method from space. Asteroid scientists are eager for "bonanza" of discoveries that await, as one researcher at mission control put it. The asteroid fits a number of criteria that make it intriguing and convenient.

"But this is all dependent on the outcome of a very close approach that Bennu has with Earth in September 2135", Lindley Johnson, a planetary defense officer with Nasa's Science Mission Directorate said, as cited by the Telegraph.

"The OSIRIS-REx team is proud to cross another major milestone off our list - asteroid arrival", said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

The machine is also equipped with laser altimeter OLA for three-dimensional maps of topography, OTES infrared spectrometer to determine the chemical and mineral composition of the surface of Bennu and the OVIRS spectrometer, which will search for water and organic substances. This mission will provide the most detailed analysis of carbon rich asteroids and will provide answers about the evolution of the solar system and our own planet.

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