NASA’s asteroid-sampling probe reached its target

After two years, NASA’s asteroid-sampling probe, Osiris- Rex has arrived at its target, an ancient asteroid called Bennu. Bennu is considered as a potentially hazardous asteroid which will collide with the earth in about 150 years. Osiris-Rex spacecraft will bring back material to earth for analysis.

Background

Bennu is a carbonaceous asteroid in the Apollo group discovered by the LINEAR Project on September 11, 1999. The carbonaceous material that composes asteroid Bennu came from dying stars such as red giants and supernovae. It is a potentially hazardous object that is listed on the Sentry Risk Table with the second-highest cumulative rating on the Palermo Technical Impact Hazard Scale.

Bennu orbits around the sun at roughly the same distance as Earth and is thought to be rich in carbon-based organic molecules dating back to the earliest days of the solar system.

Analysis

NASA’s deep space explorer, Osiris- Rex has reached the ancient asteroid Bennu, which is believed to hold organic compounds fundamental to life as well as the potential to collide with Earth in about 150 years. The robotic explorer pulled within 12 miles (19km) of the diamond-shaped and skyscraper-sized object and will go into orbit around it on 31 December. No spacecraft has ever orbited such a small body. It was launched in September 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Bennu is considered a potentially hazardous asteroid which can cause a crater if collided with the Earth.

Osiris-Rex embarked on NASA's unprecedented seven-year mission to conduct a close-up survey of the asteroid Bennu, collect samples from its surface and return that material to Earth for study. It aims to collect at least 60 grams (two ounces) of dust and gravel. The spacecraft won’t land but use a three-metre mechanical arm in 2020 to momentarily touch down and pick up particles. The sample container is planned to break loose and head toward Earth in 2021. Osiris-Rex will help scientists understand how heat radiated from the sun is gently steering Bennu on an increasingly menacing course through the solar system.

The spacecraft will pass just 1.2 miles from Bennu in late December, where it will enter the object’s gravitational pull. From that stage, the spacecraft will begin gradually tightening its orbit around the asteroid, spiralling to within just 6 feet of its surface. Osiris-Rex will fly back to Earth, jettisoning a capsule bearing the asteroid specimen for a parachute descent in the Utah desert in September 2023.

Assessment

Our assessment is that by studying Bennu, scientists could paint a more detailed picture of the early solar system. It is also likely that they can understand the threat that asteroids pose to humans. We feel that NASA will be able to develop a strategy to deflect asteroids found to be on a collision course with Earth.