NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft has arrived at its destination asteroid Bennu. No spacecraft has ever orbited such a small cosmic body. Launched on September 8, 2016, from Cape Canaveral, Florida, OSIRIS-REx is NASA’s first mission to visit a near-Earth asteroid which will help unveil the mysteries of our solar system’s formation.
"Hello, asteroid Bennu! Our @OSIRISREx spacecraft flew over 2 billion miles to meet you," NASA wrote on micro-blogging website Twitter.
Hello, asteroid Bennu! Our @OSIRISREx spacecraft flew over 2 billion miles to meet you. Here, the spacecraft's camera captures a full rotation of the asteroid. OSIRIS-REx will study Bennu for almost a year & prepare to collect and return a sample to Earth. https://t.co/WG3vVeRoV1 pic.twitter.com/2itcL6qxtC— NASA (@NASA) December 3, 2018
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Flight controllers applauded and exchanged high-fives once confirmation came through that Osiris-Rex made it to Bennu exactly one week after NASA landed a spacecraft on Mars.
The spacecraft is aimed to at least collect 60g of dust and gravel. However, Osiris-Rex won’t be landing on asteroid Bennu but, rather use 3-metre mechanical arm to vacuum up particles in 2020. The spacecraft will head towards Earth in 2021.
On August 17, spacecraft’s PolyCam camera obtained the image from a distance of 2.2 million kilometres.
At Bennu, the spacecraft will spend the first-month performing fly-by of Bennu’s north pole, equator and south pole, at distances ranging between 11.8 and 4.4 miles (19 and 7 km) from the asteroid. The spacecraft will extensively survey the asteroid before the mission team identifies two possible sample sites, which will allow the team to pick one for sample collection, scheduled for July 2020. After the sample collection, the spacecraft will head back towards Earth before ejecting the “Sample Return Capsule” for landing in the Utah desert in September 2023.
The name of the spacecraft and asteroid come from Egyptian mythology. Osiris is the god of the afterlife, while Bennu represents the heron and creation.
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In 2010, Japanese space agency JAXA’s Hayabusa spacecraft crash-landed into the surface of its target asteroid and managed to return a few micrograms of material. Hence proving sample collection from an asteroid is possible.