In a milestone development, NASA, the United States space agency will land their OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on asteroid Bennu today. The spacecraft will attempt a crucial touch and go today, and the probe will try to collect a precious sample of regolith to return to earth. However, NASA should need to wait at least 10 days to know the outcome of the mission.
NASA's historical mission
The OSIRIS-REx which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer will start its descent on October 20. As nearly 18 minutes are needed for the signals to reach the earth, all maneuvers of the spacecraft are programmed ahead of time.
According to space experts at NASA, early images of OSIRIS-REx after the crucial touch and go will help to identify whether the scoop is a success. However, comparing the spacecraft's mass before and after the maneuver will be very essential to determine the amount of dirt collected by the probe from the asteroid's surface.
Heather Enos, OSIRIS-REx deputy principal investigator at the University of Arizona revealed that the ultimate aim of the mission is to collect at least 50 grams of regolith from the surface of the space rock. However, she believes that there is room for up to 2 kilograms of samples from Bennu.
"Something really amazing is about to happen. I just couldn't be more excited to be a part of this team, and to be part of this amazing event," said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's associate administrator for the science mission directorate during a press conference yesterday.
Is asteroid Bennu active?
A few months back, the OSIRIS-REx mission had found that asteroid Bennu is very much active, as there were observable events happening on the surface of the space rock. NASA made this conclusion after detecting particle plumes ejecting off the surface of this rogue space body.
Kirsten Howley, a physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory had also suggested that learning more about the trajectory of Bennu is quite crucial as it is a potentially hazardous space rock. Moreover, this asteroid has a size of 500 meters, which means a potential collision in the future could kill millions of people in a fraction of a second.