And our spacecraft successfully landed on the asteroid, avoiding building-sized boulders, to collect a handful of space debris for analysis on Earth.
The space agency team behind the Osiris-Rex project said preliminary data showed the sampling was going according to plan and that the spacecraft had lifted off the surface of the asteroid Bennu.
“I can’t believe we actually did it,” said chief scientist Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona. “The spaceship did everything it could.”
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine congratulated the words, “We are well on our way to returning the largest specimen brought home from space after Apollo. Hopefully, scientists will study this specimen for generations to come. “
The Osiris-Rex spacecraft returned confirmation of its brief contact with the asteroid Benn at a distance of more than 322 miles (322 km), thereby gaining the mission team’s health. However, it could be a week before scientists know how many were caught and if another try will be needed. If successful, Osiris-Rex will return the samples in 2023.
The US mission follows the one in Japan called Hayabusa2, which is expected to return to Earth in December and has samples taken from the 4.5 billion-year-old Ryugu asteroid. When it lands in the Australian desert, it will be the first sub-surface asteroid sample to return to Earth.
It took the Osiris-Rex spacecraft four and a half hours to reach Benn from its close orbit to the surface, following orders given well in advance by ground inspectors near Denver.
Since the asteroid is only 510 meters long, Bennu’s gravity was too low for Osiris-Rex to land. As a result, the spacecraft had to reach an 11-foot (3.4-meter) robotic arm and try to grab at least 2 ounces (60 grams) of Bennu.
Heather Enos of the University of Arizona, a deputy mission scientist, described it as “a kiss on the surface with a short touch and a touch measured in seconds.”
The coronavirus pandemic caused a two-month delay. Tuesday’s operation was considered the most torturous part of the mission, which began with the launch from Cape Canaveral in 2016.
Osiris-Rex, a van-sized spacecraft, was heading to a location corresponding to several parking spaces on Earth in the middle of the Slavic asteroid’s crater. After nearly two years in orbit around Benn, the spacecraft found that this site had most of the particles small enough to be absorbed.
After discovering that the coast was clean, he closed Osiris-Rex for the last few meters for sampling. The spacecraft was programmed to eject compressed nitrogen gas to spin the surface and then vacuum up any stones or dust.
Scientists want between 2 ounces (60 g) and 4 pounds (2 kg) of black, brittle, carbon-rich Bennu material, meant to hold the building blocks of our solar system.
NASA mission chief Thomas Zurbuchen compared Benna to the Rosetta Stone, “the one out there that tells the story of our entire Earth, the solar system, over billions of years.”
Another plus: Bennu has little chance of hitting Earth at the end of the next century, even if not as the end of life. The more scientists know about the paths and properties of potentially dangerous space rocks like this, the better. Osiris-Rex can perform up to three touch maneuvers in the event of a short circuit. Regardless of the number of attempts required, the champions will not return to Earth until 2023 to complete a task greater than $ 800 million. Capsule with a sample parachute in the Utah desert.
“It will be another great day for us”. But this is now the absolute main event of the mission, ”said NASA scientist Lucy Lim.
NASA, meanwhile, plans to conduct three more asteroid missions over the next two years, all one-way.
S Associated Press