NASA Is Set To Contact Down On An Asteroid For The First Time

This image shows the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft's sampling arm – called the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) – and asteroid Bennu during the mission’s Checkpoint Rehearsal.

A NASA mission begun in 2016 is lastly about to succeed in its objective: touching down on an asteroid.

On Tuesday, the spacecraft OSIRIS-REx will try to gather a pattern from an asteroid referred to as Bennu. That is NASA’s first-ever asteroid pattern return mission.

“It is a fairly daring mission,” says Dean Regas, Cincinnati Observatory astronomer and host of the Trying Up podcast. “That is sending a robotic spacecraft to an asteroid the place it would contact down and accumulate some samples after which fly all the way in which again and return these samples to Earth.”

NASA explains asteroids are remnants of “the constructing blocks that shaped” our photo voltaic system. The objective is studying extra about their natural make-up, and probably, the origin of life. Regas factors out it is unsure what the samples might include and train us.

“Is it going to convey again some parts that may very well be pointing towards issues that have been on early Earth, or are we going to see one thing fully completely different? It is sort of an unknown in a whole lot of methods,” says Regas.

It is vital to study asteroids, additionally, as a result of they are often harmful. Bennu has a one in 2,700 likelihood of hitting Earth within the late 2100s, in accordance with NASA. Knowledge obtained from the samples might assist scientists be taught extra about defending our planet.

“We’ll be watching this asteroid very fastidiously and seeing how its orbit modifications over time,” Regas says. “This might lead us to some concepts of how we will really transfer asteroids out of the way in which. Issues that we see which are coming towards Earth that might probably hit us, we now have to do some training to see if we will really transfer an asteroid out of the way in which. That is the most effective likelihood we now have of avoiding these impacts.”

Whereas that is NASA’s first asteroid pattern assortment and return mission, it is not the primary ever. The Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa was the primary to return samples from an asteroid in 2010, and Hayabusa-2 is scheduled to return to Earth Dec. 6, 2020.

It is going to be some time earlier than OSIRIS-REx returns with its samples, assuming the process goes as deliberate. The spacecraft, which launched Sept. 8, 2016, is predicted to return to Earth on Sept. 24, 2023.

Comparatively talking, the asteroid is not that distant from Earth. Its orbital interval is 1.2 years, coming near Earth each six years. So, why does the mission take so lengthy? Regas says the timing needs to be good.

“The best way that our two orbits are, we now have to go on this trajectory to strategy it very slowly,” Regas explains. “It is obtained such a small gravity effectively that if you happen to miss it you fly proper by, so it’s important to go at simply the suitable velocity to catch as much as it and enter into its orbit. It is actually sophisticated to fly to reminiscent of small object.”

Bennu is roughly 510 m in diameter from its poles. By comparability, NASA factors out the Empire State Constructing is 443 m.

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