The gathering will occur on October 20, making it NASA’s first spacecraft to assemble a sample from an asteroid and return it to Earth.

The OSIRIS-REx will depart Bennu in 2021 and return to Earth in September 2023 carrying about 30 sugar packets worth of cloth from the asteroid.

Since arriving in December 2018, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission has been orbiting the asteroid and mapping its ground.

Bennu is 179 million miles from Earth, nonetheless it’s considered a near-Earth asteroid. The asteroid may go close to Earth, nearer than the moon, in 2135, with even nearer approaches doable in 2175 and 2195. A direct hit is unlikely, nonetheless the data gathered all through this mission might assist resolve the easiest strategies to deflect near-Earth asteroids.

The samples from Bennu may help scientists understand not solely additional about asteroids that may have an effect on Earth however moreover about how planets long-established and life began.

Space tag

On Tuesday, the spacecraft labored through its TAG, or Contact-and-Go sequence, which is the best way it’ll collect samples from the asteroid.

OSIRIS-REx practiced its sampling sequence about 131 toes above the chosen web site on Bennu, often known as Nightingale. The positioning is inside a crater on the asteroid’s northern hemisphere. Then, OSIRIS-REx backed away from the positioning.

This rehearsal took about four hours to complete as a result of it labored through three of the four maneuvers that may be required to assemble a sample.

Mainly, the spacecraft wanted to conduct burns, or fireside its thrusters, to get nearer to the ground of the asteroid’s ground — leaving its orbit 0.6 miles away from the asteroid.

Then, it carried out a “Checkpoint” burn at 410 toes away. All through this maneuver, OSIRIS-Rex can autonomously study its place and velocity to see if it should make any modifications sooner than it strikes nearer to the asteroid.

OSIRIS-REx then achieved its “Matchpoint” burn, the place the spacecraft matches the asteroid’s rotation so it’ll most likely fly above the sample web site.

This put the spacecraft nearer than it has ever been to the asteroid’s ground, at 131 toes away. All through this shut encounter, OSIRIS-REx unfolded its Contact-and-Go-Sample Acquisition Mechanism, or sampling arm to examine it throughout the configuration it may well use in October.

Gadgets on the spacecraft moreover took additional observations for science and navigation features, which may be part of the sample assortment plan. The model new high-resolution photographs these units obtained will help the spacecraft’s Pure Attribute Monitoring steering system aim the small sample assortment web site.

This steering system permits OSIRIS-REx to utilize its on-board hazard map and steer clear of areas that may set off damage to the spacecraft. The deliberate trajectory to achieve and sample the Nightingale web site reveals {{that a}} safe touchdown may be doable in October.

Given the area of the spacecraft from Earth, it takes about 16 minutes for an indication despatched from Earth to achieve OSIRIS-REx. So directions may be despatched ahead of time to the spacecraft, along with a command to start this sequence, in October. The crew examined this performance in the midst of the rehearsal.

The mission crew moreover used this rehearsal as an opportunity to confirm the spacecraft’s strategies had been working normally.

“Many important strategies had been exercised all through this rehearsal — from communications, spacecraft thrusters, and most importantly, the onboard Pure Attribute Monitoring steering system and hazard map,” talked about OSIRIS-REx principal investigator Dante Lauretta, a professor of planetary science and cosmochemistry on the School of Arizona, in an announcement.

“Now that we have now completed this milestone, we’re assured in finalizing the procedures for the TAG event. This rehearsal confirmed that the crew and your entire spacecraft’s strategies are ready to assemble a sample in October.”

Whereas lots of the crew labored remotely, a restricted amount of crew members had been on-site at Lockheed Martin’s Space facility, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and the School of Arizona and practising nicely being and safety precautions amid the persevering with pandemic.

In October, the spacecraft will actually attain the asteroid’s ground and use its sampling arm to the contact down for five seconds. It might launch a pressurized value of nitrogen to disturb the ground of the asteroid and collect samples from that supplies. Then, it may well once more away and return the samples to Earth on September 24, 2023.

One different mission, Japan’s Hayabusa-2, has collected samples from the asteroid Ryugu — which could have come from the same parent body as Bennu — and is already on its way back to Earth. Samples are anticipated once more by December 2020.

What everyone knows up to now

Since arriving at Bennu in 2018, OSIRIS-REx has revealed intriguing particulars concerning the asteroid.

The mission — which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Helpful useful resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer — launched in September 2016.

Bennu is roofed in boulders fairly than the huge areas of fine-grain supplies that scientists anticipated.

Bennu is the smallest physique to ever be orbited by a spacecraft, only a bit bit wider than the height of the Empire State Setting up, in keeping with NASA. Bennu has a type much like that of a spinning excessive, and it’s a “rubble pile” asteroid, which is a grouping of rocks held collectively by gravity fairly than a single object.

OSIRIS-REx’s units have confirmed that hydrated minerals, along with magnetite, are plentiful and widespread on the asteroid. The asteroid is stuffed with worthwhile provides that can even embrace clues about how life began. Bennu is mainly a leftover from the formation of our photograph voltaic system billions of years prior to now.

Early throughout the mission, the spacecraft observed unexpected plumes of material ejecting from the asteroid into space.

Bennu almost definitely originated within the major asteroid belt, having broken off of an even bigger asteroid throughout the belt between Mars and Jupiter a couple of billion years prior to now. This knocked it through space until an orbit close to Earth locked it in place.

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