After several months of orbiting the sun’s rays, 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 of approximately 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 made to benefit from the Earth’s gravity that can help launch OSIRIS-REx towards a small asteroid named Bennu. Often called the slingshot effect, or gravity assist, the ingenious method helps propel spacecrafts to great distances without expending precious fuel.
Measuring just about 500 m (1640 ft) across, Bennu could be the smallest object NASA has ever experimented with orbit. Peter Antreasian, the navigation team chief from Kinet-X Aerospace responsible for obtaining space probe for your destination, says, “The asteroid’s small size and low gravity makes OSIRIS-REx the best challenging mission which have worked on.” However, on the 7,000 Near-Earth asteroids, Bennu was an example of only five that met the desired criteria for distance, size, and composition. It was close enough to Earth, adequate for a spacecraft to get hold of and, just remember, has a primitive composition, meaning its full of the organic molecules deemed the walls of life that is known.
The $800 million mission began in September 2016 if the spacecraft was released to get Earth-Trojan asteroids – rocks which may have stable positions while in the Earth’s orbit surrounding the sun. Although it was struggle to find any, OSIRIS-REx’s level of space allowed NASA to tweak its approach to ensure may well reach Bennu.
If all goes according to plan, the spacecraft will enter Bennu’s orbit in August 2018 and begin surveying the asteroid, and also mapping out potential sampling sites. In July 2020, OSIRIS-REx will always make experience of the place rock for around 5 seconds and to push out a burst of nitrogen gas to fire up the top rocks and soil, that is instantly scooped up by a sampler head linked to the space probe’s robotic arm. In March of 2021, OSIRIS-REx and its precious cargo will commence your journey home, with the expected arrival we know by September 2023.
Edward Beshore within the University of Arizona, Deputy Principal Investigator with the mission says, “By bringing on the planet ! to Earth, we can perform a far more thorough analysis than we can easily with instruments over a spacecraft, because of practical limits to the size, mass, and energy consumption of the things might be flown.” The expert adds, “We may even put aside returned materials for our children and grandchildren to study with instruments and capabilities we’re not able to even imagine now.”
While this will likely appear like lots of money and effort to recover a smaller rock sample, it really is worthwhile. This is because scientists feel that asteroids like Bennu harbor organic matter on the young solar system. Manufactured from molecules containing carbon and hydrogen atoms, those are the critical for uncovering how life first formed and finding extraterrestrial life.
Resources: NASA.gov, skyandtelescope.com,space.com