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Osiris-Rex set to collect samples from asteroid Bennu

Date: 20 October 2020 Tags: Space

Issue

After almost two years circling an ancient asteroid hundreds of millions of miles away, a NASA spacecraft will attempt to descend to the surface and collect samples.

 

Background

 The Osiris-Rex mission is looking to bring back at least 60 grams worth of asteroid Bennu, the biggest otherworldly haul from beyond the moon.

 

Details

  • Once it drops out of its 0.75 kilometer-high orbit around Bennu, the spacecraft will take a deliberate four hours to make it all the way down, to just above the surface.

  • Then Osiris-Rex’s 3.4-meter arm reaches out and touches Bennu. Contact should last five to 10 seconds, just long enough to shoot out pressurized nitrogen gas and suck up the churned dirt and gravel.

  • Programmed in advance, the spacecraft will operate autonomously during the unprecedented touch-and-go manoeuvre.

  • If the first attempt doesn’t work, Osiris-Rex can try again. Any collected samples won’t reach Earth until 2023.

  • While NASA has brought back comet dust and solar wind particles, it’s never attempted to sample one of the nearly 1 million known asteroids in our solar system until now. 

  • Scientists consider Bennu a time capsule full of pristine building blocks that could help explain how life formed on Earth and possibly elsewhere.

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