REx Arrives at Asteroid Bennu

REx Arrives at Asteroid Bennu

OSIRIS-REx is the size of a large family vehicle and will hover around the asteroid for a year before it makes its attempt at collecting the samples.

A visualization of NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft above the asteroid Bennu.

The asteroid probing spacecraft fired the thruster for a small burn at about 12:08 EST, flying closer to the near-earth rock, about 20 kilometer away, so close that NASA called it an arrival. That sample, assuming everything goes according to plan, will be returned to researchers on Earth in 2023.

The chances of Bennu striking earth are still a fraction of a per cent. During this period, OSIRIS-REx completed four maneuvers slowing the spacecraft's velocity from approximately 1,100 miles per hour (491 m/sec) to 0.10 miles per hour (0.04 m/sec) relative to Bennu, which resulted in the slower approach speed at the end of the video.

OSIRIS-REx's approach surveys of asteroid Bennu This montage includes images from two full rotation surveys of asteroid Bennu by OSIRIS-REx on 25 and 27 November.

'Analyzing a sample from Bennu will help planetary scientists better understand the role asteroids may have played in delivering life-forming compounds to Earth, ' NASA explains.

The craft will obtain somewhere between 2 ounces and 4.4 pounds of soil sample from the surface of Bennu using a robotic arm that will blast the surface with a puff of nitrogen gas and collect the pieces that fly off.

"Our CSIRO team in Canberra and our two sister Deep Space Network stations around the world in Spain and the United States will be with the mission every step of the way". OSIRIS-REx was finally at the doorstep of its new home.

The low gravity of smaller objects like asteroids makes it more hard to target missions. OSIRIS-REx is expected to arrive back home in September 2023.

NASA returned particles from a comet in 2006 but it will be the first US mission to carry samples from an asteroid back to Earth. And Bennu's orbit makes it a "potentially hazardous" asteroid, meaning it's big and could possibly threaten the Earth in the distant future, so scientists hope to further characterize it.

Scientists are eager to study material from a carbon-rich asteroid like dark Bennu, which could hold evidence dating back to the beginning of our solar system 4.5 billion years ago.

Achievement unlocked and "we have arrived", NASA announced on its official Twitter account.

'We know from having studied Bennu through Earth- and space-based telescopes that it is a carbonaceous, or carbon-rich, asteroid.

"Now that we've arrived, we will explore [Bennu's] surface through a series of flybys and orbital campaigns that allow us to determine which areas on Bennu are the safest and have material that can be ingested by our sampling mechanism", Daniella DellaGiustina of the University of Arizona told Sky and Telescope. "Now we're at it again, working with our partners in the USA and Canada to accomplish the Herculean task of bringing back to Earth a piece of the early solar system". The probe is expected to boost understanding about the formation of the solar system and how life began.