The Osiris-REX spacecraft will pattern considered one of 4 websites on the asteroid Bennu in July 2020. An artist’s conception exhibits Osiris-REX amassing a pattern from Bennu’s floor. NASA After which there have been 4. NASA mission planners have introduced that they’ve narrowed down the potential touchdown websites on asteroid 101955 Bennu to 4 areas.
The Osiris-REX spacecraft will pattern considered one of 4 websites on the asteroid Bennu in July 2020.
An artist’s conception exhibits Osiris-REX amassing a pattern from Bennu’s floor. NASA
After which there have been 4.
NASA mission planners have introduced that they’ve narrowed down the potential touchdown websites on asteroid 101955 Bennu to 4 areas. The Osiris-REX spacecraft will landing at considered one of these websites subsequent yr and accumulate a pattern.
The positioning choice comes after a cautious survey of Bennu’s jumbled floor. Roughly zero.three mile (zero.5 kilometer) in diameter, tiny Bennu presents a singular problem for an asteroid to method.
“We knew that Bennu would shock us, so we got here ready for no matter we’d discover,” says Dante Laurette (College of Arizona Tucson). “As with all mission of exploration, coping with the unknown requires flexibility, sources and ingenuity.”
Closeups of the 4 candidate websites. NASA / College of Arizona
Osiris-REX (the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Useful resource Identification, Safety, Regolith Explorer) launched from Cape Canaveral atop an Atlas V rocket on September Eight, 2016. Osiris-REX made a gravitational help flyby of the Earth on September 22, 2017, earlier than arriving at Bennu on December three, 2018.
By now, NASA had hoped to have the positioning choice course of down to 2. However that was earlier than Osiris-REX mapped the asteroid’s rugged floor in an effort to search out the optimum touchdown web site. As at all times in planetary exploration, there is a pressure been in search of a web site that is protected versus scientifically fascinating. The Osiris-REX workforce is in search of a web site on Bennu that has tremendous grain materials lower than 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) in diameter. The workforce hopes to gather 60 grams of fabric for return to Earth — concerning the mass of an alkaline C battery. Although it is a tiny quantity, it could signify the biggest pattern return to Earth from one other world for the reason that Apollo program.
Osiris-REX is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers program, after New Horizons and Juno. The subsequent New Frontiers mission is the Dragonfly mission to Saturn’s moon Titan, anticipated to launch in 2026.
Fortuitously, the mission timeline permits an additional 300 days for the workforce to rigorously assess every web site. The 4 websites are named Kingfisher, Nightingale, Osprey, and Sandpiper, after birds native to Egypt. That is according to the Egyptian theme for the mission: Osiris is the Egyptian god of the underworld, and Bennu is a god linked with creation and rebirth.
Every web site has its execs and cons:
Nightingale is positioned the farthest north, in a small crater that is encompassed by a bigger, 140-meter-wide crater. The sampling space exhibits the bottom albedo (reflectivity) and floor temperature of the 4 potential websites, suggesting the presence of darkish, fine-grain materials appropriate for assortment.
Kingfisher is positioned close to the asteroid’s equatorial area. The positioning is in a small, Eight-meter crater that is surrounded by boulders, however the crater flooring itself is obvious of enormous rocks. The positioning additionally exhibits a powerful spectral signature that signifies the presence of hydrated materials.
Osprey can also be positioned in Bennu’s equatorial area, inside a crater that spans 20 meters. The encompassing space shows numerous rock sorts, so the positioning itself might also be numerous. Of the 4 websites, Osprey exhibits the strongest indicators of carbon-rich materials.
Sandpiper is the farthest south of the 4 websites, and is positioned inside a 63-meter-wide crater. There are hydrated minerals on the web site, so it might have pristine, water-rich materials.
Now, the Osiris-REX workforce will start an in depth survey of the 4 websites. Step one is a sequence of mapping passes 1.three kilometers over every web site, surveying the terrain for options and obstacles that can have an effect on the spacecraft’s autonomous navigation system. The workforce will announce the 2 remaining websites — a major and a backup — in December. The workforce will direct Osiris-REX to make ever-closer survey passes over every web site in early 2020.
Sampling will happen utilizing the Contact-and-Go Pattern Acquisition Mechanism, often called TAGSAM. The system makes use of a pattern assortment head on the tip of an three.Four-meter articulated arm. As soon as the arm contacts the floor, it is going to fireplace brief nitrogen bursts to fire up materials for pattern assortment. TAGSAM has sufficient nitrogen for 3 sampling makes an attempt.
The TAGSAM pattern arm on Earth. NASA
“Though Osiris-REX was designed to gather a pattern from an asteroid with a ‘beach-like’ space, the extraordinary in-flight efficiency to this point demonstrates that we will meet the problem that the rugged floor of Bennu presents,” says Wealthy Burns (NASA-GSFC). “That extraordinary efficiency encompasses not solely the spacecraft and devices, but in addition the workforce that continues to fulfill each problem that Bennu throws at us.”
After pattern assortment, Osiris-REX will depart Bennu in March 2021. The pattern return capsule with reenter over the Utah Take a look at and Coaching Vary on September 24, 2023.
Will probably be thrilling to observe the motion unfold as Osiris-REX approaches Bennu and makes historical past.
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