Farewell, Bennu! NASA spacecraft leaves asteroid to bring devices of home rock to Earth

Farewell, Bennu! NASA spacecraft leaves asteroid to bring devices of home rock to Earth

NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft captured this image of the asteroid Bennu on April 29, 2020. The probe began the long journey back toward Earth on May 10, 2021.

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft captured this image of the asteroid Bennu on April 29, 2020. The probe started the long hotfoot help toward Earth on Can also simply 10, 2021.
(Picture credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)

NASA’s first asteroid-sampling mission is hauling its home-rock bounty home.

The OSIRIS-REx probe started heading for Earth currently (Can also simply 10), kicking off a 1.4-billion-mile (2.3 billion kilometers) hotfoot that can culminate with the touchdown of its sample capsule within the Utah barren intention in September 2023.

That capsule is stuffed with pristine discipline matter that OSIRIS-REx composed from the terminate to-Earth asteroid Bennu in October 2020. The spacecraft had been lingering terminate to Bennu’s patch of home till around 4 p.m. EDT (2000 GMT) currently, when it fired its valuable thrusters for seven minutes. 

The maneuver modified OSIRIS-REx’s trudge by 595 mph (958 kph) — ample to pronounce it on a circuitous original Earth-intersecting direction that involves two extra loops all around the sun.

“I am so livid,” Jodi Zareski, systems lead at Lockheed Martin Dwelling, said currently staunch through a NASA webcast after receiving confirmation that the engine burn had started. (Lockheed Martin built OSIRIS-REx and operates it for NASA.) “I if fact be told wish Motley Crue used to be right here so shall we rock out to ‘Dwelling Sweet Dwelling,’ because we are bringing that sample help.”

OSIRIS-REx: NASA’s asteroid sample-return mission in images

Grabbing asteroid samples

The $800 million OSIRIS-REx mission launched in September 2016 and arrived at the 1,650-foot-wide (500 meters) Bennu in December 2018. 

The probe studied the carbon-successfully off home rock up terminate for a while, sizing it up and shopping for one of the best space to spiral down and snag samples. OSIRIS-REx made that pivotal dive on Oct. 20, 2020, gathering a enormous amount of asteroid dust and gravel — so worthy, of direction, that the probe’s sampling mechanism couldn’t terminate successfully.

Mission team contributors had deliberate to estimate the mass of the matter matter by performing a spinning maneuver with the spacecraft shortly after sample series. But the maneuver would doubtless own triggered extra Bennu bits to interrupt out, so OSIRIS-REx stowed the stuff in its return capsule without doing the scurry transfer.

This potential that, we don’t know precisely how worthy asteroid rubble is coming home. But it actually’s safe to claim that it conveniently exceeds the two.1-ounce (60 grams) minimal focused by the mission, OSIRIS-REx team contributors own said. This can also on account of this truth be one of the best cosmic sample hauled to Earth by NASA for the reason that Apollo astronauts brought home 842 lbs. (382 kilograms) of moon rocks from 1969 to 1972.

Bennu is a mature, carbon-successfully off asteroid — the form that many scientists bid helped bring, through endless impacts, a complete bunch water and organic discipline matter to the early Earth. After OSIRIS-REx’s samples reach home, researchers all around the arena will study them wide, in search of clues to serve answer some very mountainous questions.

“We favor to love, how did Earth change into a habitable planet? How were the seeds of lifestyles, those prebiotic organic materials, delivered to Earth that triggered the origin of lifestyles and evolution as we comprehend it?” OSIRIS-REx valuable investigator Dante Lauretta, of the University of Arizona, said staunch through currently’s NASA webcast.

Bennu would maybe be a potentially unsafe home rock, so the OSIRIS-REx mission has planetary-protection capabilities as successfully. As an instance, measurements made by the probe can also silent serve researchers better realize how asteroids transfer through home, refining the estimated trajectories of no doubt Earth-threatening rocks, team contributors own said. 

To boot, the mission would possibly maybe maybe well well inspire future home miners, allowing them to know the intention worthy water and different sources asteroids reminiscent of Bennu harbor. (The diverse goals of the mission are laid out by its plump name: “Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer.”)

Linked: Potentially dreadful asteroids (photos)

Mission navigation has bought confirmation of burn cutoff. #OSIRISREx is headed home with a keepsake of rocks and dusts from a 4.5-billion-one year-former asteroid! #ToBennuAndBack pic.twitter.com/BmaK1dkPDBCan also simply 10, 2021

Look extra

A sample-return golden age

OSIRIS-REx is correct one of a lot of sample-return missions that own launched at present. 

As an instance, Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft returned devices of Ryugu — like Bennu, a carbon-successfully off terminate to-Earth asteroid — to Earth on Dec. 5, 2020. And a mere 11 days later, the sample capsule of China’s Chang’e 5 moon mission came down in Interior Mongolia.

Hayabusa2 has now begun an prolonged mission that objectives to envision (but not sample) different asteroids, and a the same fate can also await OSIRIS-REx. After releasing its return capsule on Sept. 24, 2023, the NASA probe will fabricate an engine burn to eradicate away from slamming into Earth. It goes to also then be despatched on but every other deep-home poke — per chance one that facilities on a 2029 rendezvous with the potentially dreadful asteroid Apophis.

Mike Wall is the author of “Out There” (Huge Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a e book in regards to the stumble on alien lifestyles. Comply with him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Comply with us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook. 

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