OSIRIS Spacecraft Reaches Asteroid Bennu to Pick Up Samples

Image of Bennu was taken by the OSIRIS-REx from 50 miles (80 km) away 1 photo
Photo: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona
For the past two years, a human spacecraft by the name of OSIRIS-REx has been roaming the solar system on a mission to find an asteroid and pick a fight with it. On December 4, the spacecraft reached its target, asteroid Bennu, the American space agency announced.
OSIRIS-REx stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer. It is a tool designed pinch the asteroid, take a sample of it and return it back to Earth for study.

For it to be able to do so, OSIRIS will first have to refine estimates of Bennu’s mass and spin rate and generate a more precise model of its shape. This is needed for the craft to better choose the place from where to take the sample.

At the time of this writing the ship is at 11.8 miles (19 kilometers) from Bennu’s Sun-facing surface. Soon it will begin flyovers of Bennu’s north pole, equatorial region, and south pole. At its closest approach, only 4 miles (7 kilometers) will separate the ship from the surface.

Using an instrument called TAGSAM (Touch-and-Go-Sample-Acquisition-Mechanism), OSIRIS will attempt to take a piece of Bennu with it.

TAGSAM is an articulated arm equipped with a round sampler at its top. When the spacecraft is touching down, nitrogen gas from a canister will be released to make dust and pebbles rise and enter the sampler.

Once the sample secured, the trip back home will begin in March 2021. The goal of the mission is to learn more about how planets formed and the factors involved in dealing with potentially hazardous space rocks.

“As explorers, we at NASA have never shied away from the most extreme challenges in the solar system in our quest for knowledge,” said in a statement Lori Glaze, acting director for NASA’s Planetary Science Division.

“Now we’re at it again, working with our partners in the U.S. and Canada to accomplish the Herculean task of bringing back to Earth a piece of the early solar system.”

Bennu is a carbonaceous primitive B-type asteroid with a cumulative 1-in-2,700 chance of impacting Earth between the years 2175 and 2199, according to NASA’s 2016 Earth Impact Risk Summary.
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About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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