Published: Thu, December 06, 2018
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REx Spacecraft To Start Studying Bennu Asteroid After Reaching Goal

REx Spacecraft To Start Studying Bennu Asteroid After Reaching Goal

The diameter of the asteroid is 0.56 km Experts have discovered it in September 1999. The image, which was taken by the PolyCam camera, shows Bennu at 300 pixels and has been stretched to increase contrast between highlights and shadows. OSIRIS-REx will cautiously approach its target before slipping into orbit for more than two years of scientific observations.

The thing that excites me most about the OSIRIS REx mission is the fact that we are literally going to a world that we've never been to before. It is the smallest object ever to be orbited by a human-made spacecraft.

"Professor Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona said that an impact with Bennu would release, 'three times more energy than all nuclear weapons detonated throughout history".

As the craft approaches Bennu, it sends back stunning imagery to NASA.

The spacecraft design, a 4,650 pound craft when fueled, draws on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter heritage and was built in their Denver facility. In particular, Bennu is a rare subset of asteroid, called a B-type asteroid, which means scientists suspect there should be organic compounds and wet clays on it.

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

It will spend nearly a year surveying the asteroid with five scientific instruments with the goal of selecting a location that is safe and scientifically interesting to collect the sample and return it to Earth in September 2023.

There is also the possibility the asteroid sample could be rich in a valuable material that could be extracted for use on earth.

Soon an image of the asteroid appeared on the mission control screens: a diamond-shaped body with a rough, speckled exterior.

Stowing the sample
Stowing the sample

Ryugu's specks should be here by December 2020, but will be far less than Osiris-Rex's promised booty.

The TAGSAM is the actual sampling device that will gather anywhere from 60 grams to 2 kilograms of asteroid material from the surface of Bennu.

The collection - parachuting down to Utah - would represent the biggest cosmic haul since the Apollo astronauts hand-delivered moon rocks to Earth in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The asteroid is of particular interest to NASA because it may contain water and clays from the protoplasmic disc that formed the Sun and the planets in our Solar System. It's not the first asteroid sample return, though-the first "troubled" Hayabusa mission from Japan brought back 1,500 dust grains from the asteroid Itokawa after considerable difficulties.

But because Bennu naturally spins through Earth's space neighborhood, there's a slight potential that Bennu will travel dangerously close to Earth in 2175 and 2195. It launched in September 2016 and will spend two years up close and personal with Bennu. The space probe will depart the asteroid in March 2021 and fly back to Earth, carrying samples it will have retrieved from Bennu. That probability ranks Bennu No. 2 on NASA's catalog of 72 near-Earth objects potentially capable of hitting the planet.

The $800 million mission, known as OSIRIS-REx, is targeted for a 12 pm (1700 GMT) rendez-vous with the asteroid, and will use its suite of five science instruments to study the asteroid for the next year and a half.

The actual arrival of the spacecraft won't be a touchdown or landing on the asteroid.

OSIRIS-REx scientists expect to reveal the results of their early surveys of Bennu next week at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in Washington.

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