Osiris-Rex mission

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Context:

  • After a two-year chase, a NASA spacecraft arrived on December 3 at the ancient asteroid Bennu, its first visitor in billions of years.

Importance of this mission:

  • The carbon-rich asteroid Bennu could hold evidence dating back to the beginning of our solar system 4.5 billion years ago.
  • As such, it is an astronomical time capsule.
  • NASA has brought back comet dust and solar wind particles before, but never asteroid samples.

About Osiris-Rex

  • The $800 million Osiris-Rex mission began with a 2016 launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
  • Both the spacecraft and asteroid’s names come from Egyptian mythology. Osiris is the god of the afterlife, while Bennu represents the heron and creation.
  • Osiris-Rex is actually a NASA acronym for origins, spectral interpretation, resource identification, security-regolith explorer.
  • Osiris-Rex aims to collect at least 60g of dust and gravel.
  • The spacecraft won’t land, but rather use a 10-foot (3-metre) mechanical arm in 2020 to momentarily touchdown and vacuum up particles.
  • The sample container would break loose and head toward Earth in 2021.
  • The collection parachuting down to Utah would represent the biggest cosmic haul since the Apollo astronauts hand-delivered moon rocks to Earth in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Japan’s second asteroid mission

  • A Japanese spacecraft, meanwhile, has been hanging out at another near-Earth asteroid since June, also for samples.
  • It is Japan’s second asteroid mission. This latest rock is named Ryugu and about double the size of Bennu.
  • Japan has also managed to return some tiny particles in 2010 from its first asteroid mission, also named Hayab

Potentially hazardous asteroids

  • Both Bennu and Ryugu are considered potentially hazardous asteroids.
  • That means they could smack Earth years from now. At worst, Bennu would carve out a crater during a projected close call 150 years from now.
  • Contact with Bennu will not significantly change its orbit or make it more dangerous to us.

Source:TH