NASA’s touch-and-go mission: US spacecraft Osiris-Rex set to collect samples from asteroid Bennu
On October 20, Osiris-Rex, name inspired by Egyptian mythology, will attempt a dive to Bennu’s surface and try to snatch a handful of rubble which it will bring back to Earth.
For almost two years, Osiris-Rex, a small spacecraft has been circling an asteroid more than 100 million miles away. According to scientists, this asteroid, Bennu, is a piece of a larger one that was formed just a few million years after Earth. Scientists believe that it could reveal many secrets of the ancient history of our solar system.
On October 20, Osiris-Rex, name inspired by Egyptian mythology, will attempt a dive to Bennu’s surface and try to snatch a handful of rubble which it will bring back to Earth.This will be the United States’ first attempt at collecting asteroid samples and return to Earth, an achievement only accomplished by Japan so far.
The Osiris-Rex mission will attempt to bring back at least 60 grams worth of asteroid. For the touchdown spot, the spacecraft seeks for the relatively flat middle of a tennis court-sized crater named ‘Nightingale’. Boulders as big as buildings appear over the targeted touchdown area.
To throw some perspective on how the spacecraft will land on the aimed spot, NASA’s deputy project manager Mike Moreau told AP, “The next time you park your car in front of your house or in front of a coffee shop and walk inside, think about the challenge of navigating Osiris-Rex spacecraft into one of these spots from 200 million miles away.”
After Osiris-Rex drops out of its half-mile-high orbit around asteroid Bennu, it will take four hours to reach all the way down, to just above the surface. Then the spacecraft will reach out and touch Bennu. The contact should last five to ten seconds. During this, the Osiris-Rex will shoot out pressurised nitrogen gas and suck up the churned dirt and gravel.
During the touch-and-go journey, the Osiris-Rex spacecraft will operate autonomously. In case the first attempt doesn’t work, the spacecraft can try again as any collected samples won’t reach Earth until 2023.