(CNN)This week, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft conducted a ideal rehearsed of all the maneuvers this may possibly well perchance have faith to landing on the asteroid Bennu and win a sample from it within the autumn.
The sequence will occur on October 20, making it NASA’s first spacecraft to win a sample from an asteroid and return it to Earth.
The OSIRIS-REx will trail away Bennu in 2021 and return to Earth in September 2023 carrying about 30 sugar packets worth of subject fabric from the asteroid.
Since arriving in December 2018, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission has been orbiting the asteroid and mapping its surface.
Bennu is 179 million miles from Earth, nevertheless it be regarded as a advance-Earth asteroid. The asteroid may possibly well perchance possibly also run shut to Earth, closer than the moon, in 2135, with even closer approaches that you just also can accept as true with in 2175 and 2195. An instantaneous hit is now not in point of fact, nevertheless the guidelines gathered throughout this mission can reduction decide the one systems to deflect advance-Earth asteroids.
The samples from Bennu may possibly well perchance possibly also reduction scientists stamp now not only more about asteroids that can also affect Earth nevertheless also about how planets shaped and lifestyles started.
On Tuesday, the spacecraft worked through its TAG, or Contact-and-Traipse sequence, which is how this may possibly well perchance win samples from the asteroid.
OSIRIS-REx practiced its sampling sequence about 131 feet above the chosen quandary on Bennu, called Nightingale. The quandary is interior a crater on the asteroid’s northern hemisphere. Then, OSIRIS-REx backed some distance off from the positioning.
This rehearsal took about four hours to total because it worked through three of the four maneuvers that may possibly be required to win a sample.
Undoubtedly, the spacecraft needed to behavior burns, or hearth its thrusters, to opt up closer to the outside of the asteroid’s surface — leaving its orbit 0.6 miles some distance off from the asteroid.
Then, it carried out a “Checkpoint” burn at 410 feet away. At some level of this maneuver, OSIRIS-Rex can autonomously take a look at its quandary and velocity to undercover agent if it desires to make any changes sooner than it strikes closer to the asteroid.
OSIRIS-REx then executed its “Matchpoint” burn, the put the spacecraft suits the asteroid’s rotation so it may possibly well most likely wing above the sample quandary.
This build the spacecraft closer than it has ever been to the asteroid’s surface, at 131 feet away. At some level of this shut detect, OSIRIS-REx unfolded its Contact-and-Traipse-Sample Acquisition Mechanism, or sampling arm to study it within the configuration this may possibly well perchance use in October.
Devices on the spacecraft also took more observations for science and navigation functions, which may possibly be phase of the sample sequence opinion. The unique high-resolution photos these instruments bought will reduction the spacecraft’s Natural Honest Tracking steering system goal the diminutive sample sequence quandary.
This steering system lets in OSIRIS-REx to use its on-board hazard draw and help some distance off from areas that can also cause damage to the spacecraft. The deliberate trajectory to reach and sample the Nightingale quandary reveals that a safe landing will be that you just also can accept as true with in October.
Given the distance of the spacecraft from Earth, it takes about 16 minutes for a signal despatched from Earth to reach OSIRIS-REx. So instructions will be despatched sooner than time to the spacecraft, as effectively as a boom to launch this sequence, in October. The team tested this functionality throughout the rehearsal.
The mission team also primitive this rehearsal as a chance to be certain the spacecraft’s systems were working in total.
“Many critical systems were exercised throughout this rehearsal — from communications, spacecraft thrusters, and most importantly, the onboard Natural Honest Tracking steering system and hazard draw,” stated OSIRIS-REx main investigator Dante Lauretta, a professor of planetary science and cosmochemistry at the University of Arizona, in an announcement.
“Now that we now have faith executed this milestone, we are confident in finalizing the procedures for the TAG occasion. This rehearsal confirmed that the team and all the spacecraft’s systems are ready to win a sample in October.”
Whereas grand of the team worked remotely, a exiguous amount of team participants were on-quandary at Lockheed Martin’s Keep facility, NASA’s Goddard Keep Flight Heart and the University of Arizona and practicing effectively being and security precautions amid the ongoing pandemic.
In October, the spacecraft will in fact reach the asteroid’s surface and use its sampling arm to the contact down for 5 seconds. It will release a pressurized model of nitrogen to disturb the outside of the asteroid and win samples from that subject fabric. Then, this may possibly well perchance wait on away and return the samples to Earth on September 24, 2023.
Any other mission, Japan’s Hayabusa-2, has peaceful samples from the asteroid Ryugu — which may possibly well perchance possibly also have faith reach from the same dad or mum physique as Bennu — and is already on its contrivance wait on to Earth. Samples are anticipated wait on by December 2020.
What each person knows to this level
Since arriving at Bennu in 2018, OSIRIS-REx has revealed keen facts about the asteroid.
The mission — which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Safety-Regolith Explorer — launched in September 2016.
Bennu is roofed in boulders in wish to the exquisite areas of impartial-grain subject fabric that scientists anticipated.
Bennu is the smallest physique to ever be orbited by a spacecraft, exquisite pretty bit wider than the dwell of the Empire Issue Constructing, primarily based fully on NASA. Bennu has a form equivalent to that of a spinning top, and it be a “rubble pile” asteroid, which is a grouping of rocks held collectively by gravity in wish to a single object.
OSIRIS-REx’s instruments have faith confirmed that hydrated minerals, including magnetite, are abundant and frequent on the asteroid. The asteroid is fat of precious gives that may possibly well also have faith clues about how lifestyles started. Bennu is truly a leftover from the formation of our solar system billions of years ago.
Early within the mission, the spacecraft observed surprising plumes of subject fabric ejecting from the asteroid into dwelling.
Bennu potentially originated within the fundamental asteroid belt, having broken off of a better asteroid within the belt between Mars and Jupiter a few billion years ago. This knocked it through dwelling till an orbit shut to Earth locked it in quandary.