NASA mission efficiently touched down on asteroid Bennu

NASA mission efficiently touched down on asteroid Bennu

That pattern will probably be returned to Earth in 2023.

To realize this historic first for NASA, a van-size spacecraft needed to briefly contact down its arm in a touchdown website referred to as Nightingale. The location is the width of some parking areas.

The arm reached out to gather a pattern, which could possibly be between 2 ounces and a couple of kilograms. Then, the spacecraft backed away to security.

Every part went completely based mostly on the information returned by the spacecraft, in accordance with Dante Lauretta, the mission’s principal investigator and a professor on the College of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. He mentioned he feels “transcendent” and the workforce is “exuberant” based mostly on the present knowledge.

On Tuesday evening, the OSIRIS-REx workforce will undergo the information being despatched again by the spacecraft.

“After over a decade of planning, the workforce is overjoyed on the success of at this time’s sampling try,” Lauretta mentioned in an announcement. “Despite the fact that we’ve some work forward of us to find out the result of the occasion — the profitable contact, the TAGSAM fuel firing, and back-away from Bennu are main accomplishments for the workforce. I stay up for analyzing the information to find out the mass of pattern collected.”

The company will be capable of affirm if a pattern was efficiently collected later and pictures of the occasion will probably be obtainable Wednesday on NASA’s website.

“This was an unbelievable feat — and at this time we have superior each science and engineering and our prospects for future missions to review these mysterious historic storytellers of the photo voltaic system,” mentioned Thomas Zurbuchen, affiliate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in an announcement. “A bit of primordial rock that has witnessed our photo voltaic system’s complete historical past could now be prepared to return dwelling for generations of scientific discovery, and we will not wait to see what comes subsequent.”

The location itself is nestled inside a crater the dimensions of a tennis courtroom and ringed in building-size boulders.

Positioned greater than 200 million miles from Earth, Bennu is a boulder-studded asteroid formed like a spinning high and as tall because the Empire State Constructing. It is a “rubble pile” asteroid, which is a grouping of rocks held collectively by gravity moderately than a single object.

The mission — which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Useful resource Identification, Safety-Regolith Explorer — launched in September 2016.

Asteroid Bennu is about to play 'tag' with a NASA spacecraft

Since arriving at Bennu, the spacecraft and its cameras have been accumulating and sending again knowledge and pictures to assist the workforce study extra in regards to the asteroid’s composition and map the very best potential touchdown websites to gather samples.

The primary occasion of the mission is the Contact-and-Go pattern assortment occasion, or TAG, that occurred at this time.

Bennu has an orbit that brings it near Earth, which is why it is thought-about to be a near-Earth asteroid. One among its future approaches might deliver it perilously near Earth someday within the subsequent century; it has a one in 2,700 probability of impacting our planet.

The samples from Bennu might assist scientists perceive not solely extra about asteroids that would influence Earth but additionally about how planets shaped and life started.

“As we speak’s TAG maneuver was historic,” mentioned Lori Glaze, Planetary Science Division director at NASA Headquarters in Washington, in an announcement. “The truth that we safely and efficiently touched the floor of Bennu, along with all the opposite milestones this mission has already achieved, is a testomony to the dwelling spirit of exploration that continues to uncover the secrets and techniques of the photo voltaic system.”

Ready for the second

Quite than the so-called “seven minutes of terror” of attempting to land the Perseverance rover on Mars subsequent yr, the OSIRIS-REx workforce has skilled “4.5 hours of gentle anxiousness,” in accordance with Beth Buck, the mission’s operations program supervisor at Lockheed Martin House in Littleton, Colorado.

The occasion formally began at 1:57 p.m. ET.

Throughout this time, the spacecraft descended from its orbit across the asteroid and got here shut sufficient to the touch it.

The asteroid and spacecraft are at the moment about 207 million miles from Earth, which trigger a communication delay of about 18.5 minutes between the mission’s workforce and the spacecraft.

This asteroid is ejecting particles into space. A spacecraft may tell us why
The workforce at NASA has been sharing animations on the mission’s Twitter account depicting what is happening based mostly on the instructions which have already been despatched to OSIRIS-REx hours forward for the pattern assortment sequence.
A livestream additionally started at 5 p.m. ET on NASA’s website that shares animations and perception from the mission workforce as they clarify the information they’re receiving.

The spacecraft carried out your complete sequence of approaching the asteroid and accumulating the pattern autonomously since dwell instructions from Earth weren’t attainable.

Touching down on an asteroid

The occasion took about 4.5 hours complete to unfold and the spacecraft executed three maneuvers to gather the pattern.

The spacecraft fired thrusters to go away its protected orbit across the asteroid, which is about 2,500 ft away from the floor, and traveled for a complete of 4 hours earlier than reaching simply 410 ft away. Then, the spacecraft adjusted for place and pace to proceed descending.

OSIRIS-REx then slowed its descent to focus on a path so it matched the asteroid’s rotation throughout contact. Its photo voltaic panels folded right into a Y-wing configuration above the spacecraft to guard them.

Finally, OSIRIS-REx touched down for lower than 16 seconds. The spacecraft fired a pressurized nitrogen bottle into the asteroid, utilizing the fuel as a method to raise materials off Bennu’s floor.

If pattern assortment occurred as deliberate, the spacecraft’s collector head captured the stirred up materials. This head, situated on the 11-foot-long robotic sampling arm, is the one a part of the spacecraft that touched Bennu. The workforce compares it to an air filter in an older mannequin automobile, excellent for accumulating fantastic materials.

Small discs, which may accumulate mud like sticky pads, are additionally situated on the pinnacle in case a part of the sampling maneuver did not go in accordance with plan.

After the occasion

A digital camera on the spacecraft has captured footage of the gathering occasion.

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft was tasked with detecting hazards and delaying its personal mission if any obstacles have been to get in the best way of the pattern assortment. Primarily based on its simulations, the workforce estimated there was lower than a 6% probability the spacecraft would abort the mission.

Imagery will probably be returned by the spacecraft on Wednesday, which is able to present extra particulars of the pattern assortment and the way the spacecraft is faring.

“It is laborious to place into phrases how thrilling it was to obtain affirmation that the spacecraft efficiently touched the floor and fired one of many fuel bottles,” mentioned Michael Moreau, OSIRIS-REx deputy mission supervisor at NASA’s Goddard House Flight Heart in Greenbelt, Maryland, in an announcement.

“Our first indication of whether or not we have been profitable in accumulating a pattern will come on October 21 after we downlink the back-away film from the spacecraft,” Moreau mentioned. “If TAG made a major disturbance of the floor, we possible collected a number of materials.”

The workforce estimates that they are going to have a mass measurement of the pattern on Saturday. By October 30, NASA will affirm if the spacecraft collected sufficient of a pattern or if it must make one other pattern assortment try in January at one other touchdown website referred to as Osprey.

But when every thing runs easily, the spacecraft and its prized pattern will start the lengthy journey again to Earth subsequent yr and land the pattern on Earth in 2023.

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