NASA spacecraft meets with asteroid

NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission and the asteroid Bennu have had a date planned for two years, and just after noon ...

Posted: Dec 4, 2018 3:15 PM
Updated: Dec 4, 2018 3:15 PM

NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission and the asteroid Bennu have had a date planned for two years, and just after noon ET today, they finally got to meet face to face. OSIRIS-REx fired its thrusters for a small burn, putting it about 4.3 miles from Bennu, marking the end of its journey to the asteroid.

The mission -- which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer -- is NASA's first asteroid sample return mission. It launched in September 2016 and will spend two years up close and personal with Bennu. First images of the asteroid from the spacecraft's perspective have appeared as it got closer and closer.

Asteroids and comets

Government organizations - US

NASA

Space and astronomy

US federal departments and agencies

US government independent agencies

Aviation and aerospace industry

Business and industry sectors

Business, economy and trade

Celestial bodies and objects

Earth

Planets and moons

Space industry

Spacecraft and satellites

Science

Space exploration

On Tuesday, the spacecraft will fly within 5 miles of Bennu, which will help design future orbits and map the surface.

Over the next year, OSIRIS-REx will survey the asteroid using five scientific instruments on board the spacecraft. These instruments will help it determine a safe location from which to collect a small sample from Bennu's surface that will be returned to Earth in September 2023.

"Bennu's low gravity provides a unique challenge for the mission," said Rich Burns, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "At roughly 0.3 mile in diameter, Bennu will be the smallest object that any spacecraft has ever orbited."

The sample from Bennu, a near-Earth asteroid, could help scientists understand not only more about asteroids that could impact Earth but about how planets formed and life began.

OSIRIS-REx has a camera suite, a laser altimeter for 3D mapping, a thermal emission spectrometer to take temperature and mineral content and spectrometers to measure X-rays, nearly infrared and visible light.

An arm mechanism called TAGSAM will reach out to collect the sample from Bennu's surface, making contact with the asteroid for five seconds in July 2020. During this contact, the arm will use a nitrogen gas burst to stir up rock and other materials on the surface so it can capture them. There is enough nitrogen for three attempts if the first is unsuccessful.

NASA said the estimated 2.1-ounce sample size equates to about 30 sugar packets worth of dirt and rocks.

The arm has a full range of motion, with joints capable of movement comparable to shoulder, elbow and wrist joints. It was "flexed" in space for the first time on November 14.

"The TAGSAM exercise is an important milestone, as the prime objective of the OSIRIS-REx mission is to return a sample of Bennu to Earth," said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson. "This successful test shows that, when the time comes, TAGSAM is ready to reach out and tag the asteroid."

In 2021, it will be time for the spacecraft to essentially turn around and begin its two-year journey home. The sample will be packed into a capsule that will drop in the Utah desert in 2023.

For two years after the return, the sample will be cataloged and analyzed. Afterward, 75% of the returned sample will remain at NASA's Johnson Space Flight Center so it can be used for more research by scientists from around the world.

Why did NASA select Bennu out of the 780,000 known asteroids in our solar system?

It was discovered in 1999, and scientists have been studying it ever since. The asteroid fits a number of criteria that make it intriguing and convenient.

Bennu is relatively close to Earth, and its orbit even crosses that of our planet, making a close approach every six years. Though small asteroids can rotate very quickly, Bennu has a diameter just a bit bigger than the height of the Empire State Building and rotates relatively slowly, each 4.3 hours. This means OSIRIS-REx can match its velocity and touch down briefly.

The asteroid could pass close to Earth, closer than the moon, in 2135, with even closer approaches possible in 2175 and 2195. A direct hit is unlikely, but the data gathered during this mission can help determine the best ways to deflect near-Earth asteroids.

The asteroid is also old and well-preserved, full of valuable materials that may even contain clues about how life began. Bennu is essentially a leftover from the formation of our solar system billions of years ago, although some of the minerals inside it could be even older.

This carbon-rich asteroid could be full of organic molecules, metals, platinum and even water -- the essential ingredients for life. It's because of objects like Bennu that these resources were delivered to Earth during its formation.

Asteroids could even serve as fuel stations for robotic and human missions if we can unlock the hydrogen and oxygen inside them, NASA said.

Bennu probably broke off of a larger asteroid in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter a couple billion years ago. This knocked it through space until an orbit close to Earth locked it in place. And Bennu is believed to be a grouping of rocks held together by gravity rather than a single object.

But its orbit drifts 0.18 miles each year toward the sun, and OSIRIS-REx will enable researchers to understand why and to predict Bennu's movements. This could also explain how it ended up as a near-Earth asteroid.

"The story of this asteroid is the story of the solar system," said Bashar Rizk, instrument scientist for OSIRIS-REx. "When we understand Bennu, we will understand something fundamental about our solar system."

West Lafayette
Broken Clouds
76° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 60°
Feels Like: 76°
Kokomo
Overcast
73° wxIcon
Hi: 78° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 73°
Rensselaer
Clear
72° wxIcon
Hi: 78° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 72°
Fowler
Clear
72° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 72°
Williamsport
Broken Clouds
75° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 75°
Crawfordsville
Broken Clouds
70° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 70°
Frankfort
Overcast
77° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 79°
Delphi
Scattered Clouds
71° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 71°
Monticello
Scattered Clouds
71° wxIcon
Hi: 77° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 71°
Logansport
Broken Clouds
72° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 72°
WLFI Radar
WLFI Temps
WLFI Planner

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 51079

Reported Deaths: 2756
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion12019693
Lake5588248
Elkhart353959
Allen2939134
St. Joseph210669
Hamilton1691101
Cass16449
Hendricks1454100
Johnson1340118
Porter82638
Tippecanoe7709
Vanderburgh7276
Clark69544
Madison67464
LaPorte61628
Howard59858
Bartholomew59745
Kosciusko5754
Marshall5449
Noble51328
LaGrange4849
Boone48244
Jackson4783
Delaware47152
Hancock46736
Shelby45425
Floyd40644
Morgan34231
Monroe34028
Grant31826
Dubois3046
Henry30018
Montgomery29720
Clinton2903
White27410
Dearborn25823
Decatur25632
Lawrence25225
Vigo2528
Warrick25029
Harrison21722
Greene19432
Miami1932
Jennings17912
Putnam1738
DeKalb1694
Scott1649
Wayne1546
Daviess15017
Perry14710
Orange13723
Steuben1362
Jasper1352
Ripley1307
Franklin1278
Gibson1202
Wabash1162
Carroll1142
Fayette1067
Whitley1066
Starke1043
Newton10010
Huntington942
Jefferson862
Wells821
Randolph794
Fulton731
Knox710
Jay700
Washington681
Pulaski661
Clay645
Rush613
Posey570
Spencer541
Owen521
Benton510
Sullivan501
Adams491
Brown431
Blackford402
Fountain352
Crawford330
Switzerland320
Tipton321
Parke270
Martin260
Ohio230
Vermillion200
Warren151
Union140
Pike110
Unassigned0193

COVID-19 Important links and resources

As the spread of COVID-19, or as it's more commonly known as the coronavirus continues, this page will serve as your one-stop for the resources you need to stay informed and to keep you and your family safe. CLICK HERE

Closings related to the prevention of the COVID-19 can be found on our Closings page.

Community Events