Four years into its seven-year mission, NASA’s Osiris Rex spacecraft is finally assigned to rapidly do “Touch-And-Go” (TAG) on the surface of planetary remnants likely during the first ten million years of our solar system’s history.
Tuesday’s attempt to touch the surface of the asteroid “101955 Bennu” (Bennu) marks NASA’s first effort to return a sample of the asteroid. However, the Origins mission, spectral interpretation, resource identification, and Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) have already earned the Guinness Book of Records both the smallest in orbit and the closest orbit to a planetary object by a spacecraft.
If Tuesday’s attempt is successful, it would get at least 2.1 ounces (60 grams) of surface material from the asteroid measuring 1,614 feet in diameter before the spacecraft begins its three-year journey to Earth.
The sample was an eyewitness to the formation of the solar system [some 4.56 billion years ago] Her analysis should give insight into the processes involved in the dawn of the solar system, planets and life, “Jason Dorkin, mission project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center told me.
Bennu has mostly had no nuisance for billions of years, so bino can be made from material containing particles that were present when life first formed on Earth, NASA says.
However, actual sampling will be more difficult than initially planned. This is because the spacecraft was designed to operate within mostly smooth surface standards. Since arriving in Benno about two years ago, NASA has now realized that the surface is littered with large rocks and boulders that would complicate matters.
The Osiris Rex is designed to navigate Benno’s roughly 2,000 square yards – roughly the size of a parking lot with 100 places, NASA says. Now, it should maneuver to a safe location on Bennu’s rocky roof within a constraint of less than 100 square yards, an area of about five parking spaces, according to the space agency.
Which type of sample is best?
“An amazing thing,” said Dorkin. I hope for a sample rich in complex organic compounds that tell stories of how life formed on early Earth, or anywhere else in the solar system, he says.
During a rehearsal of the sampling effort on Tuesday, the spacecraft reached an altitude of about 131 feet – the closest spacecraft ever to Benno – and then burned away, according to the University of Arizona reports. Nightingale, the spacecraft’s primary sample collection site, is located inside a crater in the northern hemisphere of Beno, the university says.
At about 5 p.m. EST on Tuesday, the spacecraft will begin a slow, hour-long descent from its current orbit of about 5,500 feet to the surface. Its actual contact with this ancient object would last under five seconds.
Using an ingenious sample-collection method, the spacecraft’s TAG will use an articulated positioning arm that extends a few feet from the spacecraft. The arm will then release a jet of compressed nitrogen gas to move the surface, allowing materials to be collected in the sampling retention chamber.
The spacecraft will be in a standalone program once it begins landing but its sensors will be able to detect if it is about to get into trouble with surface hazards. If that were the case, the spacecraft would automatically retract to a height of 16 feet and try again.
The good news is that regardless of what happens on Tuesday, Dworkin says OSIRIS-REx has already demonstrated how to maneuver around a small object, and its navigation methods can be applied to other small things like comets and asteroids.
And if things go as planned?
We will begin indexing and analyzing the sample once it is returned on September 24, 2023, Dorkin says.
Devoted music ninja. Zombie practitioner. Pop culture aficionado. Webaholic. Communicator. Internet nerd. Certified alcohol maven. Tv buff.