What’s OSIRIS-REx? Every little thing you must know in regards to the 1st NASA spacecraft to land on an asteroid

On Sept. 24, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will come hurtling by way of Earth’s environment, carrying samples of the close by, “probably hazardous” asteroid Bennu.

The return is the climax of a seven-year flight — starting with the spacecraft’s 2016 launch — that was the primary U.S. mission to gather a pattern from an asteroid. As soon as analyzed, the pattern guarantees to yield very important particulars about how life within the photo voltaic system started and in regards to the motion of an asteroid that would in the future crash violently into Earth.

This is all the things you must know in regards to the OSIRIS-REx mission.

OSIRIS-REx begins to separate from its Centaur rocket throughout its Sept. 8, 2016 journey in house. (Picture credit score: United Launch Alliance)

What’s OSIRIS-REx?

The OSIRIS-REx (brief for the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Useful resource Identification, Safety-Regolith Explorer) spacecraft was developed for NASA by Lockheed Martin. It’s roughly the dimensions of a van and, when totally fueled, weighs round 4,650 kilos (2,110 kilograms).

Moreover folding photo voltaic panels, onboard cameras, and tools to map Bennu’s floor, OSIRIS-REx is provided with a 10-foot-long (3 meters) pattern arm for retrieving chunks of rock from the asteroid.

After returning the samples to Earth, OSIRIS-REx is because of launch once more in 2029 — this time, to the asteroid Apophis, one other probably hazardous near-Earth asteroid laden with intriguing subsurface supplies.

Technicians assemble OSIRIS-REx close to Denver, Colorado. (Picture credit score: Lockheed Martin)

What’s Bennu?

OSIRIS-REx’s first goal, Bennu, is an 85.5 million-ton (77.5 million metric tons) house rock that’s on monitor to swoop inside 4.6 million miles (7.5 million kilometers) of Earth’s orbit between 2175 and 2199. If Bennu, which is as vast because the Empire State Constructing is tall, have been to slam into Earth, the estimated kinetic vitality launched can be 1,200 megatons — roughly 80,000 occasions higher than the vitality of the bomb dropp ved on Hiroshima, Japan.

Whether or not this collision will happen is unknown. The projected odds (the very best for any identified asteroid) are slim, at simply 1 in 2,700, however unpredictable alterations to Bennu’s orbit, made continually by tiny nudges from starlight, might nonetheless shift it onto a collision course with Earth.

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft previous to the beginning of environmental testing. (Picture credit score: Lockheed Martin)

Why is OSIRIS-REx vital?

The nudges supplied to asteroids by the solar are referred to as the Yarkovsky impact. Named after the Nineteenth-century engineer who first proposed it, the impact describes the truth that house rocks comparable to asteroids would, over lengthy intervals, take in and emit sufficient momentum-carrying gentle to subtly change their orbits.

Quantifying the Yarkovsky impact is essential to figuring out and predicting which asteroids are probably hazardous.

In actual fact, to land the spacecraft on Bennu, OSIRIS-REx’s scientists made probably the most exact measurement of the impact but. They’ve made a equally exact measurement of the impact on OSIRIS-REx’s subsequent goal — the possibly hazardous Apophis.

Asteroids like Bennu aren’t vital only for understanding how life on our planet may very well be destroyed but additionally for the way it was born. Earth’s water is older than the planet itself and was in all probability delivered to our planet by asteroid and comet impacts.

However water wasn’t the one materials asteroids delivered to Earth; the constructing blocks of life probably hitched a experience on an area rock, too. Bennu is a B-type asteroid, which implies it incorporates excessive quantities of carbon and, probably, most of the primordial molecules current when life emerged on Earth.

A few of these constructing blocks (together with uracil, one of many nucleobases for RNA) have been not too long ago discovered on the asteroid Ryugu by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Company’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft, which returned to Earth with its pattern in 2020. OSIRIS-REx mission scientists are hoping to seek out different intriguing potential precursors for Earth’s biology on Bennu.

OSIRIS-REx enters certainly one of its final phases of testing. (Picture credit score: College of Arizona/Symeon Platts)

How did OSIRIS-REx land on Bennu?

After launching from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in September 2016, OSIRIS-REx spent the subsequent yr performing a detailed flyby of Earth. At its closest method over Antarctica, the spacecraft flew roughly 10,700 miles (17,200 km) overhead — a maneuver that enabled it to slingshot itself to Bennu by rising its pace by 8,451 mph (13,601 km/h).

Upon arriving at Bennu, OSIRIS-REx made a collection of fine-tuned blasts to place it into orbit across the tiny asteroid. Then, for practically two years, the spacecraft studied Bennu’s floor, taking side-by-side photographs that have been later stitched into stereoscopic photographs (made by Queen guitarist Brian Might, who labored with the staff) to offer scientists one of the best view of what would make for a protected and scientifically priceless touchdown web site.

After a lot deliberation, the researchers settled on a rocky web site they named Nightingale, which OSIRIS-REx touched down upon on Oct. 20, 2020. To stay the touchdown and never sink utterly by way of the rubble-pile asteroid’s floor, the spacecraft fired a fast blast of nitrogen fuel from its Contact-and-Go Pattern-Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM).

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