All Systems Go for OSIRIS-REx Departure from Asteroid Bennu and Sample Return to Earth

Artist’s illustration of OSIRIS-REx leaving the asteroid Bennu on Could 10, 2021. Picture Credit score: NASA/Goddard/College of Arizona

NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Useful resource Identification, Safety, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission has been an enormous success. The spacecraft has been the asteroid Bennu in nice element, and final October, it collected samples of rock, sand and dirt for later return to Earth. Now, mission are getting ready OSIRIS-REx to leave Bennu behind on Could 10, 2021. This was the primary U.S. mission to ever get hold of samples from an asteroid for supply again to Earth.

“Leaving Bennu’s neighborhood in Could places us within the ‘candy spot,’ when the departure maneuver will eat the least quantity of the spacecraft’s onboard gasoline,” mentioned Michael Moreau, OSIRIS-REx deputy mission supervisor at NASA’s Goddard Area Middle in Greenbelt, Maryland. “However, with over 593 miles per hour (265 meters per second) of velocity change, this would be the largest propulsive maneuver performed by OSIRIS-REx because the strategy to Bennu in October 2018.”

The departure from Bennu would be the starting of the lengthy journey again to Earth, which is able to take a pair years. The spacecraft is anticipated to reach again residence on Sept. 24, 2023.

On Oct. 20, 2020, OSIRIS-REx collected materials from a reasonably small, flatter area known as Nightingale. The pattern assortment was profitable, and scientists say that the spacecraft was capable of get hold of greater than the hoped-for two ounces (60 grams).

The sample-return location, known as Nightingale, within the northern hemisphere of Bennu. Picture Credit score: NASA/Goddard/College of Arizona
This sequence of photographs, from Aug. 11, 2020 in the course of the second rehearsal of the OSIRIS-REx mission’s pattern assortment occasion, exhibits the SamCam imager’s area of view because the spacecraft approaches asteroid Bennu’s floor. The rehearsal introduced the spacecraft by way of the primary three maneuvers of the sampling sequence to some extent roughly 131 ft (40 meters) above the floor, after which the spacecraft carried out a back-away burn. Animation Credit score: NASA/Goddard/College of Arizona
OSIRIS-REx Contact-and-Go Pattern Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) sampling head prolonged from the spacecraft on the finish of the TAGSAM arm. Photograph Credit score: NASA/Goddard/College of Arizona

Aside from the pattern assortment, OSIRIS-REx made a number of orbits round Bennu, its construction and composition.

Upon leaving Bennu, the spacecraft will have the ability to make one final shut flyby of the asteroid. Particularly, mission scientists wish to get one other have a look at the pattern web site to watch how the gathering course of altered the floor. Throughout the Contact-and-Go (TAG) pattern assortment occasion, the collector head penetrated 1.6 ft (48.Eight centimeters) into the asteroid’s floor. The spacecraft’s thrusters additionally disturbed a considerable quantity of floor materials in the course of the back-away burn, because the spacecraft lifted off the floor once more.

The flyby is scheduled for someday in April, and OSIRIS-REx will observe Nightingale from about 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) above the floor.

This can solely be a single flyby, however the mission staff is hoping that the spacecraft will have the ability to picture Bennu throughout a full rotation and procure high-resolution photographs of the asteroid’s northern and southern hemispheres in addition to its equatorial area. That is much like a observing sequence in the course of the Detailed Survey part in 2019.

“OSIRIS-REx has already supplied unimaginable science,” mentioned Lori Glaze, NASA’s director of planetary science on the company’s headquarters in Washington. “We’re actually excited the mission is planning another statement flyby of asteroid Bennu to offer new details about how the asteroid responded to TAG and to render a correct farewell.”

Mosaic picture of Bennu as seen by OSIRIS-REx on Dec. 2, 2018. Photograph Credit score: NASA/Goddard/College of Arizona
Unbelievable view of the boulder-covered floor of Bennu within the southern hemisphere, taken by OSIRIS-REx on March 7, 2019. Photograph Credit score: NASA/Goddard/College of Arizona
One other shut view of the tough, rocky floor. Photograph Credit score: NASA/Goddard/College of Arizona

On Could 10, OSIRIS-REx will enter the Earth Return Cruise part. When it lastly reaches Earth in 2023, the spacecraft will eject the Pattern Return Capsule (SRC), which is able to descend to Earth. Utilizing parachutes, it can land on the Utah Check and Coaching Vary.

Scientists are keen to check the samples introduced again, as they will present beneficial clues as to how asteroids, and our entire Photo voltaic System, shaped. The samples might be distributed to numerous laboratories around the globe for evaluation.

Final October, it was reported that the pattern acquisition from Bennu had gone even higher than had been anticipated. Greater than the hoped-for two grams (60 ounces) of fabric had been collected, and the lid on the pattern collector head – known as the Contact-And-Go Pattern Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) – wasn’t closed fairly correctly because the container was so filled with rocky and dusty particles.

“Bennu continues to shock us with nice science and likewise throwing a couple of curveballs,” mentioned Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s affiliate administrator for science on the company’s headquarters in Washington. “And though we could have to maneuver extra rapidly to stow the pattern, it’s not a foul drawback to have. We’re so excited to see what seems to be an ample pattern that may encourage science for many years past this historic second.”

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft launches aboard a ULA Atlas V 411 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Drive Station, Florida, on Sept. 8, 2016. On Sept. 24, 2023, OSIRIS-REx, with its treasured cargo from Bennu, will return residence. Photograph Credit score: United Launch Alliance

Mission scientists had been involved that a number of the pattern may be misplaced to area if it leaked by way of the opening of the still-slightly-open lid. However that loss appears to have been averted, and the saved pattern is now able to be introduced again residence.

Bennu, a near-Earth asteroid, comprises carbon, and there may be additionally now proof for organic molecules, and ancient hydrothermal systems. This exhibits that the unique physique that Bennu broke off from billions of years in the past had the elements for all times. Asteroids like Bennu are thought to have delivered natural molecules to the early Earth, serving to life to get began right here. Due to this fact, scientists assume that with the ability to research samples in labs, in far more element, will assist them perceive how life originated on our planet, and maybe elsewhere as nicely.

Extra details about OSIRIS-REx is on the market on the main mission website in addition to this NASA website.

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