NASA's probe reaches asteroid that is a potential threat to Earth

NASA's probe reaches asteroid that is a potential threat to Earth

Contact with Bennu will not significantly change its orbit or make it more risky to us, Lauretta stressed.

OSIRIS-REx is the size of a large family auto and will hover around the asteroid for a year before it makes its attempt at collecting the samples.

NASA's first-ever mission created to visit an asteroid and return a sample of its dust back to Earth arrived Monday at its destination, Bennu, two years after launching from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The room was utterly silent.

For a sample-return mission, the asteroid has to be the right size.

From the end of February to early June 2019, OSIRIS-REx will start two detailed survey phases which will generate chemical composition and digital terrain maps along with global image mosaics and at the end of the process will have enough information to select up to 12 candidate sampling sites. Bennu is believed to be a well-preserved, ancient asteroid, containing cosmic fragments older than our solar system. It will be the first USA mission to carry samples from an asteroid back to Earth and the largest sample returned from space since the Apollo era.

Studying the sample in terrestrial labs, scientists hope to uncover clues about the birth of the planets and the origins of Earth's water and life.

A fragment of the early solar system, Bennu is also considered potentially risky.

The American space agency's Osiris-Rex probe has drawn up alongside the Asteroid Bennu after a two-year, two-billion-km journey from Earth. To their delight, newly acquired close-ups of the asteroid closely match their predictions. The mission is being led by researchers at the University of Arizona.

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"That is why for scientists this sample is going to be far more precious than even gold". And touch and go is exactly what the spacecraft must achieve.

That makes orbiting - which relies on a delicate balance between a spacecraft's velocity and an object's gravity - especially hard.

OSIRIS-REx is in no hurry. The diameter of the asteroid is 0.56 km Experts have discovered it in September 1999. This ensures that the solar radiation pressure remains constant, so engineers can make sure they continuously counteract it.

Scientists have estimated that in 2135 Bennu could pass closer to Earth than the moon, which orbits at a distance of about 250,000 miles, and possibly come closer still some time between 2175 and 2195.

The spacecraft will nominally collect a sample on 4 July 2020 and return it to Earth in 2023.

The low gravity of smaller objects like asteroids makes it more hard to target missions. TAGSAM is the heart of the spacecraft's mission. A burst of nitrogen gas will kick up rocks, and surface material that will be captured in the sampler head says NASA. Then it must turn around and retrace its path back home. The spacecraft is expected to parachute chute back to earth over Utah.

The Atlas V 411 configuration launch vehicle performed well and the craft was on its way for a two year-plus trip to asteroid Bennu. Lastly, the mission will also provide more insights into the mind-boggling potential for asteroid mining in the future. "Bennu is one of the ones we are watching", Dante Lauretta, the OSIRIS-REx principal investigator, said in August.

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