• NASA’s Osiris-Rex spacecraft landed on an asteroid referred to as Bennu and picked up samples of its rock on Tuesday.
  • The probe, which is the dimensions of a 15-passenger van, maneuvered round hazardous boulder fields to succeed in its small touchdown zone.
  • NASA doesn’t but know whether or not Osiris-Rex scooped up sufficient rock. If it did, the pattern may assist scientists learn the way life arose on Earth.
  • The mission may additionally assist NASA deflect the asteroid whether it is discovered to be vulnerable to crashing into Earth.
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NASA simply landed a spacecraft on an asteroid.

If every part went as deliberate, the probe additionally sucked up a pattern of mud and rock from the floor.

From 200 million miles away, NASA and its engineering accomplice, Lockheed Martin, instructed the Osiris-Rex spacecraft to descend to the floor of an area rock referred to as Bennu, touching it for simply 5 to 10 seconds on Tuesday night. In that point, the probe ought to have collected samples from the asteroid’s floor, although NASA will not verify success in that maneuver for a number of extra days. It is set to carry these items of Bennu again to Earth in 2023.

The spacecraft’s title is brief for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Useful resource Identification, Safety-Regolith Explorer. It beamed again affirmation that it had landed on Bennu’s floor, and the sign reached Earth at 6:11 p.m. ET — about 18 minutes after the precise landing.Mission Management erupted in cheers and applause.

“Transcendental. I am unable to imagine we truly pulled this off,” Dante Lauretta, the mission’s principal investigator, stated throughout NASA’s stay broadcast of the operation. “The spacecraft did every part it was alleged to do.”

osiris rex asteroid bennu landing sample collection touch and go

An artist’s rendering of OSIRIS-REx touching down on the Nightingale website on asteroid Bennu.


NASA/Goddard/SVS/CI Lab



The purpose was for Osiris-Rex to select up at the least one 2.1-ounce (60-gram) pattern, which is a couple of small bag of potato chips’ value of mass.It’ll take a couple of days to find out whether or not the probe did certainly snatch up sufficient rock. 

The spacecraft has been orbiting Bennu since December 2018. It is set to go away in March 2021, samples in tow, then attain Earth on September 24, 2023.

The mission’s analysis may very well be essential over the subsequent 100-plus years, since Bennu’s path places it vulnerable to crashing into Earth.

“Bennu is without doubt one of the most doubtlessly hazardous asteroids, with a non-negligible likelihood of impacting the Earth in some unspecified time in the future within the twenty second century,” Lauretta stated in September. “A part of our science investigation is about understanding its orbital trajectory, refining the impression chance, and documenting its bodily and chemical properties in order that future generations can develop an impact-mitigation mission, if that is essential.”

There are different vital causes to review Bennu as nicely: As new missions go deeper into area, they might want to make pit stops to mine asteroids for sources like water, which might be break up into oxygen and hydrogen for rocket gas. The info NASA is gathering from Bennu may assist inform future asteroid-mining makes an attempt.

osiris rex asteroid bennu touch and go sample collection

An artist’s rendering of Osiris-Rex descending towards Bennu to gather a pattern of the floor.


NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona



Osiris-Rex can also be, in a way, a soul-searching mission. Asteroids are bits of historic rock from the beginnings of the photo voltaic system 4.5 billion years in the past. The leftover materials that made the rocky planets — Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars — coalesced over time into asteroids, the place it is largely preserved in its authentic type.

Some theories posit that asteroids delivered key substances for all times to historic Earth. On Bennu, scientists could discover indicators of these substances, cluing them in to how life arose on Earth (and presumably on Mars or Venus too).

If profitable, this mission might be one of many first to return samples of primordial rock. Japan’s Hayabusa-2 spacecraft can also be set to carry again asteroid samples in December.

“That is all about understanding our origins, addressing among the most elementary questions that we ask ourselves as human beings: The place did we come from? And are we alone within the universe?” Lauretta stated.

NASA’s spacecraft dropped 3,000 toes to blast asteroid mud

Osiris-Rex’s early information revealed an issue for the mission: Bennu is way rockier than NASA thought. Touchdown in a discipline of boulders places a spacecraft vulnerable to tipping over and getting stranded.

asteroid bennu rotating osiris rex

A rotating mosaic of Bennu composed of photographs captured by Osiris-Rex over 4 hours on December 2, 2018.


NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona



To focus on the smoothest attainable terrain on the asteroid, the Osiris-Rex mission group selected a touchdown spot that was a lot smaller than initially deliberate. Its leeway was simply 26 toes (8 meters), whereas the preliminary plan anticipated it to have 164 toes (50 meters). That compelled the spacecraft, which is concerning the dimension of a 15-passenger van, to focus on an space roughly equal to 6 parking areas on the fast-spinning asteroid.

The touchdown spot was a comparatively easy space named Nightingale, which is roofed in a superb rocky mud referred to as regolith. That is the fabric that Osiris-Rex tried to scoop up.

The spacecraft slowly descended about 3,280 toes (1 kilometer), maneuvering previous a two-story boulder that mission controllers name “Mount Doom.” Osiris-Rex had twice rehearsed this descent, practising “mainly every part aside from the ultimate two minutes,” stated Mike Moreau, a mission supervisor.

osiris rex asteroid bennu touchdown rehearsal

Osiris-Rex’s digital camera captured its descent towards Bennu throughout a sample-collection rehearsal on August 11.


NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona



The sequence went like this: The spacecraft’s thrusters fired, pushing it out of its kilometer-high orbit above Bennu. Then the probe deployed its sample-collection arm and pointed its navigation digital camera to the asteroid’s floor. About 3 1/2 hours later — and about 410 toes above the floor — the spacecraft fired its thrusters once more to push itself towards the touchdown website. After one other 10 minutes and one other 260 toes of descent, the spacecraft burned its thrusters to maneuver right into a exact touchdown spot.

If the spacecraft had detected hazardous rocks at its touchdown level, the probe would have initiated a back-away burn simply 16 toes above the floor. However the entire operation appears to have gone in line with plan.

The spacecraft seems to have reached Bennu’s floor with its sample-collection arm stretched down. Assuming no snafus arose, this arm ought to have shot nitrogen fuel out of a bottle to fire up the regolith beneath it. Within the disturbance, some materials was doubtless caught within the assortment instrument on the finish of the arm.

Shortly after landing, Osiris-Rex fired its thrusters to push itself away from Bennu.

NASA will resolve whether or not to stow the pattern or attempt once more

As soon as the spacecraft is again in Bennu’s orbit, it is going to take a couple of days for NASA mission controllers to investigate the regolith pattern it collected. If there’s sufficient rock and mud, mission leaders will command the spacecraft to retailer the pattern in a pod for its return to Earth.

osiris-rex asteroid bennu sample collection stowage

An animation, edited to 2 instances its authentic pace, of Osiris-Rex stowing a pattern collected from Bennu.


NASA/Goddard/CI Lab



But when the spacecraft has lower than 2.1 ounces of regolith, it is going to do that entire sequence once more in January, concentrating on a backup website on a unique a part of the asteroid.

“By far the most certainly end result that we’ll have on October 20 is we are going to contact the floor and are available away with a big pattern that exceeds our minimal necessities,” Moreau stated in September. “However Bennu has thrown us a variety of curveballs.”

Osiris-Rex was carrying three bottles of nitrogen for stirring up mud, permitting it three makes an attempt to descend to Bennu’s floor and acquire a correct pattern.

The Bennu pattern ought to attain Earth in 2023

When Osiris-Rex returns to Earth in 2023, it is slated to shoot the capsule containing the samples into Earth’s ambiance. The samples ought to then parachute into the Utah desert for NASA to select up.

“It is going to most likely be Christmas in September,” Lauretta stated. “One of the best Christmas current I’ve ever had, these pristine samples from asteroid Bennu that I have been dreaming — actually dreaming — about for, at that time, virtually 20 years of my life.”

osiris-rex asteroid bennu sample return

An animation of Osiris-Rex releasing its Pattern Return Capsule for landing within the Utah desert in 2023.


NASA/Goddard/CI Lab



Scientists will set about analyzing the pattern, however NASA will protect among the regolith for future research.

“These samples returned from Bennu may even enable future planetary scientists to ask questions we will not even consider at this time,” stated Lori Glaze, the director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, “and to have the ability to use evaluation strategies that are not even invented but.”

This story has been up to date to mirror Osiris-Rex’s profitable touchdown on asteroid Bennu.



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