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techkenyot.com March 23, 2019


NASA deep space probe reaches asteroid deemed potential Earth threat

06 December 2018, 03:46 | Edward Lowe

NASA deep space probe reaches asteroid deemed potential Earth threat

3_9_Bennu

As it has been for Japan's Hayabusa2 sample return mission to asteroid Ryugu, finding the right spot for OSIRIS-REx to touch down on Bennu could be hard.

"The OSIRIS-REx team is proud to cross another major milestone off our list - asteroid arrival", said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson. A direct hit is unlikely, but the data gathered during this mission can help determine the best ways to deflect near-Earth asteroids.

"The spacecraft is already in Bennu's gravitational* influence and, according to NASA's calculations, is set to officially arrive in orbit, just 2km above the asteroid, on Tuesday at around 4am AEDT*", CSIRO* tracking station spokesman Glen Nagle said. In particular, Bennu is a rare subset of asteroid, called a B-type asteroid, which means scientists suspect there should be organic compounds and wet clays on it.

The mission's navigation team will use the preliminary survey of Bennu to practice the delicate task of navigating around the asteroid. This mission, which will bring grains back for us to study on Earth, is the latest to return asteroid samples to Earth after the Japanese Space Agency's missions Hayabusa 1 and 2 and StarDust. The sample will be packed into a capsule that will drop in the Utah desert in 2023. First of all, Bennu is old, really old. Osiris-Rex in 2016 embarked on a never done before mission.

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Bennu is due to make a close pass of Earth in about 150 years possibly involving a collision.

The probe will orbit the asteroid for 18 months and bring back a sample that could help explain how planets formed and may help explain how life began. From Aug. 17 through November 27 the spacecraft's PolyCam camera imaged Bennu nearly daily as the spacecraft traveled 1.4 million miles (2.2 million km) toward the asteroid.

The asteroid is of particular interest to NASA because it may contain water and clays from the protoplasmic disc that formed the Sun and the planets in our Solar System.

Asteroids like Bennu are such intriguing targets because they are the leftovers from the solar system's birth. It's because of objects like Bennu that these resources were delivered to Earth during its formation.

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Achievement unlocked and "we have arrived", NASA announced on its official Twitter account. It is about 1,600 feet (488 meters) wide and most likely broke away from a larger asteroid between Mars and Jupiter a couple of billion years ago. After jettisoning the sample, OSIRIS will redirect itself on a new course, this time entering a stable orbit around the sun. And Bennu is believed to be a grouping of rocks held together by gravity rather than a single object. We can actually get images to the sub-millimeter level, so we will be able to see grain sizes, boulders, craters of the surface of Bennu.

The spacecraft will spend the next year completing a detailed survey of the surface of Bennu (492 metres in diameter)-including locating the most suitable landing sites.

Then, in 2020, it will reach out with its robotic arm and touch the asteroid in a maneuver Rich Kuhns, OSIRIS-REx program manager with Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver, described as a "gentle high-five".

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