The $800 million OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Useful resource Identification, Safety, Regolith Explorer) mission is being led by Dante Lauretta, Professor of Planetary Science and Cosmochemistry on the College of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory and goals to additional our understanding of how the early Photo voltaic System fashioned.
Class-B asteroids like Bennu function time capsules of a kind. “Asteroids are leftovers fashioned from the cloud of gasoline and dirt — the photo voltaic nebula — that collapsed to type our solar and the planets about 4.5 billion years in the past,” NASA’s Dwayne Brown wrote in 2011. “As such, they include the unique materials from the photo voltaic nebula, which might inform us in regards to the circumstances of our photo voltaic system’s beginning.”
Moreover, they’re wealthy in each carbon and unstable compounds which might assist us work out how life began — or if an environment is even required for all times to get going seeing as how we’ve beforehand discovered amino acids and different natural compounds on the surfaces of asteroids.
OSIRIS took off from Cape Canaveral, Florida in September 2016. It arrived at Bennu in 2018 and just like the Hyabusa2 mission earlier than it, has spent the final two years surveying and finding out the skyscraper-sized asteroid. These surveys have revealed that natural carbonaceous materials is unfold extensively over Bennu’s floor, particularly on the Nightingale web site the place OSIRIS set down.
“The abundance of carbon-bearing materials is a significant scientific triumph for the mission. We are actually optimistic that we’ll gather and return a pattern with natural materials – a central purpose of the OSIRIS-REx mission,” Lauretta defined.
The crew additionally discovered carbonate minerals through the survey, suggesting the Bennu was as soon as a part of an excellent bigger asteroid, one with an hydrothermal system the place liquid water interacted with the rock. What’s extra, the regolith discovered at Nightingale seems to have solely ever been uncovered to a space-based surroundings, which means that the roughly 2 ounces of collected samples can be particularly pristine and unsullied by organic contaminants.
Accumulating these samples concerned a never-before-tried method dubbed the touch-and-go (TAG). Earlier than starting its method, the OSIRIS unfolded and deployed its Contact-And-Go Pattern Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) whereas pulling its photo voltaic panels again right into a Y-shape in order that if the TAGSAM arm did unintentionally overshoot and crunch into Bennu, the remainder of the spacecraft would nonetheless have the required energy to operate. Provided that NASA was making an attempt to set a spacecraft the dimensions of a minivan down in an space the dimensions of some parking areas — that simply so occurred to be surrounded by house-sized boulders — conserving all of OSIRIS’ bits and items out of the way in which was of paramount significance.
OSIRIS was actually solely in bodily contact with the asteroid for a number of seconds — simply lengthy sufficient to emit a puff of nitrogen gasoline that lifted bits of regolith off of Bennu’s floor for assortment. To make sure that it has a sufficiently giant pattern, OSIRIS will first take an image of the collector head to substantiate the presence of regolith, after which on Saturday, will prolong its TAGSAM arm and spin on its axis like a centrifuge to measure the mass of rock and dirt within the assortment bin. From right here, OSIRIS-Rex will draw back from the asteroid, redeploy its photo voltaic panels in addition to a high-gain antenna to transmit preliminary photographs and information from the operation then start a virtually three yr lengthy trek again to Earth the place the gathering capsule is predicted to land on the Utah Check and Coaching Vary in 2023.
“After over a decade of planning, the crew is overjoyed on the success of at the moment’s sampling try,” mentioned Lauretta mentioned throughout a submit maneuver press convention. “Although we’ve got some work forward of us to find out the end result of the occasion – the profitable contact, the TAGSAM gasoline firing, and back-away from Bennu are main accomplishments for the crew. I stay up for analyzing the info to find out the mass of pattern collected.”