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Space travel: Osiris-Rex is supposed to drop an asteroid sample onto Earth

Space travel: Osiris-Rex is supposed to drop an asteroid sample onto Earth

Dropping a capsule from the lander is a bit like playing darts, but on a basketball court, says NASA Administrator Rich Burns. NASA’s probe is supposed to be at an altitude of about 102 thousand kilometers “Osiris Rex” On Sunday, September 24, the sample was launched from the asteroid Bennu over the desert of the American state of Utah. Hours later, the capsule will enter the Earth’s atmosphere protected by a heat shield and will land after about 13 minutes with the help of parachutes in an area of ​​about 58 x 14 kilometers. “It’s like throwing a dart on a basketball court and hitting the bullseye on the other side,” Burns says.

Dust and debris

If all goes well, this will be the first asteroid sample successfully brought to Earth in NASA history — and perhaps the largest sample ever taken. “A piece of solar system history,” says NASA scientist Nicola Fuchs.

She and her colleagues estimate there are about 250 grams of dust and debris in the capsule, which is about 81 centimeters in diameter, weighs about 46 kilograms, and looks like a salad bowl with a high lid. In 2005, the Japanese space probe Hayabusa landed on an asteroid. In 2010, the first soil samples collected from this celestial body were brought to Earth. There have been other flights to asteroids, but no other probe has been able to return material to Earth yet.

Amazing extraction

Sample collection by Osiris-Rex (origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer) in October 2020 was a complex and dizzying maneuver that lasted several hours: the probe blasted off from Cape Canaveral Spaceport in 2016. Place it temporarily in Bennu’s orbit and approach it within a few metres. Using what looked like a robotic arm, it touched the asteroid’s surface for about five seconds and expelled pressurized nitrogen to stir up the sample material, which was then sucked up.

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The collapse occurred instantly during the complex process, which had been practiced twice before: the lid of the collection container was opened slightly by larger stones, allowing parts of the sample to escape. However, NASA scientists still assume that there is enough material in the collection container.

Dangerous asteroid

After landing, the sample will be transported to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, for testing. Deep Black Bennu, named after an ancient Egyptian god, is about 550 meters in diameter and could come completely close to Earth in 150 years. Although the risk of collision is very low, NASA considers Bennu one of the most dangerous asteroids currently known – and therefore wants to conduct detailed research on it.

Next goal

Scientists also hope that the Osiris-Rex mission, which costs about $1 billion, will provide insight into the formation of the solar system more than 4.5 billion years ago, because asteroids are remnants of it. NASA’s next probe, Psyche, is scheduled to launch to an asteroid at the beginning of October.

The Osiris-Rex probe, which is about six meters long and weighs 2,100 kilograms, has already been assigned new tasks. After being shot down, it must fly directly to the next asteroid, this time to Apophis. According to calculations, the asteroid with a diameter of about 370 meters will pass near Earth at a distance of about 32 thousand kilometers in 2029, and thus it can be studied closely for the first time. “Osiris-Rex” also got a new name for the subsequent mission: “Osiris-Apex”.

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