NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is preparing to stretch out its robotic arm and collect a sample from the surface of the asteroid Bennu on Tuesday evening.
Starting Tuesday at 5 p.m. EST, the spaceship activated its sensors and instruments as it descended further into orbit the asteroid, which contains material from the early solar system and could provide insight into the origins of life on Earth.
Starting at 5:38 p.m. EST, the spaceship's 11-foot arm and cameras aimed at the surface of the asteroid were steered into proper orientation for the final descent, and at 5:47 p.m. the spacecraft's cameras were turned on.
At 5:53 p.m. the burning of the checkpoint was complete, which means that the spaceship will drop more steeply onto Bennu's surface in time for the burning of the matchpoint. At 6:02 p.m. the burning of the match point was completed. The spacecraft's most important final maneuver was performed by firing its engines to hit Bennus Spin and Center just above the landing pad and land safely.
NASA's OSIRIS Rex spacecraft has been orbiting Bennu for almost two years, who is hurtling through space at 63,000 miles per hour. During the meticulous 4.5-hour descent, the spaceship briefly lands on the space rock for a few seconds with its arm on a landing site called Nightingale.
The vehicle shoots pressurized nitrogen gas to stir up the surface and vacuum up about 2 grams (60 grams) of loose pebbles or dust. Contact is only expected to last five to 10 seconds before the spaceship withdraws.
"We're going to kiss the surface in seconds with just a quick touch-and-go," said Heather Enos of the University of Arizona, the assistant researcher for the mission.
The 11-foot sampling arm of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft (pictured) will take Bennu rock and soil samples when the spacecraft lands on space rock on Tuesday, October 20
After a carefully coordinated 4.5 hour descent, OSIRIS-REx lands on the asteroid Bennu for a few seconds. The ship is the size of a van and will land in an area called Nightingale on October 20 at 10:00 p.m. CET (5:00 p.m. CET)
Bennu's gravity is too low for the spaceship to land – the asteroid is only 510 meters in diameter. As a result, Osiris-Rex has to reach out with his 11-foot robotic arm as he dodges boulders the size of buildings and tries to take samples.
Nightingale is a 52-foot location in the northern hemisphere of the tiny asteroid, less than half a mile in diameter, a point equal to some parking lots on Earth.
The Nightingale site was chosen because it represents one of the clearest areas on the asteroid's surface with the best access to fine-grained material.
However, there are rock-sized buildings around the site, so there are few parking spaces available to land on.
BUILDING BLOCKS OF LIFE CAN BE IN BENNU BOULDERS
The asteroid Bennu could contain the building blocks of life in its debris surface, and the body was once part of a much larger, water-covered world, scientists claim.
NASA's OSIRIS-Rex mission will land on Bennu on October 20 to collect samples of the space rock.
Bennu's boulders were found to contain a bright carbonate vein
As part of the preparations for this mission, six research papers were published covering the history and composition of the near-Earth asteroid.
One such work found evidence of carbonaceous and organic materials that are common on the surface of Bennu.
These materials were found in veins running through rocks and had to be formed as a result of free flowing water that was on the larger, long-destroyed celestial body that Bennu created.
This is the first confirmed discovery of these building blocks of life on a near-Earth asteroid.
If the landing goes even slightly wrong, OSIRIS-REx is in a treacherous area, NASA explained.
Once the sample is collected, the spaceship will launch back into space and reach Earth in 2023.
This is America's first attempt to collect samples from an asteroid, which Japan has already done – twice.
The head of NASA's science mission, Thomas Zurbuchen, compared Bennu with the Rosetta Stone: "Something that is out there and tells the story of our entire earth, the solar system over the last billions of years."
Bennu is located between Earth and Mars at a distance of approximately 334 million kilometers from our planet.
For this reason, it takes approximately 18.5 minutes for the signals to be transmitted between OSIRIS-REx and NASA headquarters.
The pre-programmed spaceship works autonomously during the unprecedented touch-and-go maneuver.
With a delay of 18 minutes in radio communications, ground controllers for spacecraft manufacturer Lockheed Martin near Denver cannot intervene.
This means that manual landing is impossible, with all hopes of a successful landing depending on the on-board autonomous system.
This will be the largest sample selection since the Apollo missions, which had the bonus of a lot more money and people on the surface to aid the collection.
Should the collection of Bennu's surface material be successful, it will be returned to Earth on September 24, 2023.
While NASA brought back cometary dust and solar wind particles, it has never attempted to study any of the nearly 1 million known asteroids lurking in our solar system so far.
Osiris-Rex can carry out up to three touch-and-go maneuvers if it comes up short.
Regardless of how many trials are required, the samples will not return to Earth until 2023 to complete the $ 800 million quest.
The sample capsule will parachute into the Utah desert.
& # 39; This is going to be another big day for us. But this is absolutely the main event of the mission right now, ”said NASA scientist Lucy Lim on Tuesday.
This is a long time for NASA.
OSIRIS-REx was launched four years ago in September 2016 to collect data and samples from the rare Type B asteroid.
B-type asteroids are primitive, which means they have not changed significantly since Earth was formed 4.5 billion years ago and could contain carbon-based organic molecules similar to those that gave rise to life on Earth .
OSIRIS-REx has been orbiting Bennu since December 2018, surveying its surface, spinning and practicing flying near the asteroid.
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