The evolution of technology and knowledge about asteroids, means that these pieces of rock can be studied. In addition to telling the history of the Universe for millions of years, these stars can be important to discover the origin of our own planet. Thus, on a successful stamped mission, NASA managed to touch with an arm of its OSIRIS-REx probe on the asteroid Bennu.
The American space agency showed incredible images of the moment when the spacecraft marked the ground of this space traveler.
NASA OSIRIS-REx touches the asteroid Bennu
NASA's OSIRIS-REx probe extended its robotic arm this morning and touched the asteroid Bennu for just a few seconds. Thus, as planned, this man-made equipment was able to collect a sample from the surface of an asteroid about 500 meters in diameter.
According to the mission's plans, the probe is expected to return the material collected in 2023 to Earth. However, we still have to wait a few days to confirm that the collection was successful. Researchers will already begin to analyze the material, thousands of data and images that the ship has started to send.
Sampling the early solar system
The OSIRIS-REx mission began four years ago and since 2018 it has been in orbit around Bennu. This is an asteroid Apolo discovered by LINEAR on September 11, 1999. It is well preserved and is currently located more than 321 million kilometers from Earth.
Thus, Bennu offers scientists a window into the beginning of the solar system, as it formed billions of years ago and may contain ingredients that may have helped to sow life on Earth.
If the sampling event, known as “Touch-And-Go” (TAG), managed to grab enough dust and pebbles (at least 60 grams and up to 2 kilos), the spacecraft will begin its journey back to Earth in March 2021. Otherwise, it may have to try to touch the rock again next January.
Slow approach, monitored to the centimeter
By 7:50 am PST, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft fired its propellants to exit orbit around Bennu. Subsequently, he extended his sample collection arm, which measures 3.35 meters, known as the Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM), and went down 805 meters to the surface.
According to NASA, this descent, which took four hours, took place at an altitude of approximately 125 meters. The probe then ignited the “Checkpoint”, the first of two maneuvers to allow it to accurately reach the sampling site, in a crater known as Nightingale.
Ten minutes later, the ship fired its propellants for the second “Matchpoint” ignition. The intention was to decrease its descent and coincide with the rotation of the asteroid at the moment of contact. Then it continued for 11 minutes, passed a rock the size of a two-story building, nicknamed "Mount Doom", to land in a clear spot in a crater in the northern hemisphere of Bennu.
It was an incredible feat. Today we are advancing both in science and engineering for future missions that study these mysterious ancient narrators from the solar system. A piece of primordial rock that has witnessed the entire history of our solar system may now be ready to return home for generations of scientific discovery, and we can't wait to see what comes next.
Said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
A lot of data will be obtained: unique knowledge about the universe
As mentioned, OSIRIS-REx engineers and scientists will use various techniques to remotely identify and measure the sample. First, the scientists will compare images from the Nightingale site before and after the TAG to see how much surface material has moved in response to the gas explosion.
If the TAG caused a significant surface disturbance, we probably collected a lot of material.
Michael Moreau, deputy director of the OSIRIS-REx project, concluded.
So, after this adventure, the ship is scheduled to return to Earth on September 24, 2023. This will launch the parachute SRC in the Utah desert, where scientists will be waiting to take it home.