Four years after its mission more than 200 million miles from Earth, NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft landed on an asteroid to retrieve a sample of primordial dust and pebbles from the celestial body that “may have helped to sow the life on Earth ”.
This ancient, well-preserved asteroid known as Bennu offers scientists a window into the early solar system, as it was first taking shape billions of years ago.
The historic capture was a first for NASA, which, after a decade of planning, released OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Safety, Regolith Explorer) in September 2016.
With pre-programmed instructions, he deployed his robotic arm and briefly touched down to collect a 60-gram (2-ounce) sample from the surface to send to Earth in 2023.
“Our industrial, academic and international partners have made it possible to get our hands on a piece of the oldest solar system,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.
On October 20, it fired its thrusters to exit its orbit around Bennu. It extended the shoulder, then the elbow, and then the wrist of its 11-foot (3.35-meter) sampling arm, and traversed Bennu as it descended approximately half a mile (805 meters) to the surface. After a four-hour descent, to an altitude of approximately 410 feet (125 meters), the spacecraft executed the “Checkpoint” burn, the first of two maneuvers to allow it to accurately target the sample collection site.
Ten minutes later, the spacecraft fired its thrusters so that the second combustion slowed its descent and coincided with the asteroid’s rotation at the moment of contact. It then continued a treacherous 11-minute coastline past a rock the size of a two-story building, nicknamed “Mount Doom,” to land in a cloudless spot in a crater in the northern hemisphere of Bennu. About the size of a small parking lot, the site is one of the few relatively clear spots on this unexpectedly rock-covered space rock.
After collecting a sample, he fired his thrusters and walked safely away from Bennu.
“This was an incredible feat, and today we have advanced both science and engineering and our prospects for future missions to study these mysterious ancient narrators of the solar system,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate of the POT. “And we can’t wait to see what comes next.”
Two days after landing on the asteroid, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission team received images that confirmed the spacecraft had collected more than enough material to meet one of the main mission requirements, then spent two days working. 24 hours to carry out stowage. process. Given the distance from Earth, the team needed to work with a time delay greater than 18.5 minutes for signals traveling in each direction. (Check out a cool animation below…)
The sample arm was then removed to the side of the spacecraft for the last time, in preparation for its departure from Bennu in March 2021, the next time Bennu will correctly align itself with Earth for the lowest power consumption return flight. made out of fuel.
“Today’s TAG maneuver was historic,” said Lori Glaze, director of the Division of Planetary Sciences at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “The fact that we have safely and successfully touched the surface of Bennu, in addition to all the other milestones this mission has already achieved, is a testament to the living spirit of exploration that continues to uncover the secrets of the solar system.”
OSIRIS-REx arrived at Bennu on December 3, 2018 and began to orbit. The spacecraft is scheduled to return to Earth on September 24, 2023, when it will parachute into the western Utah desert, where scientists will be waiting to pick it up.
NASA’s NEAR spacecraft in 2001 was the first human-made object to orbit and the first to land an asteroid. It survived the landing on the asteroid and dropped valuable measurements from the surface for about two weeks.
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