NASA’s Osiris-Rex On Asteroid Quest
On Thursday thousands gathered to witness the launch of Osiris-Rex, a robotic hunter that looks something like a bird with its solar wings. The spacecraft took flight on Atlas V rocket. This is a first of its kind U.S mission which will go on for seven years and involve chasing a big, black unexplored asteroid, collect a few gravels back to Earth. Which it will parachute to Utah.
The mission will explore asteroid Bennu collect samples of the ancient space rock which could hold clues to the origin of life not just to our planet possibly everywhere in the universe.
It took about an hour for the spacecraft to shot out of the Earths orbit on its way to Bennu. Celebrations began with launch controllers shaking hands and embracing each other.
NASA’s chief scientist, Ellen Stofan said. “Tonight is a night for celebration. We are on our way to an asteroid. After all, we’ve just done something amazing.”
Osiris-Rex chief scientist Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona added “We got everything just exactly perfect. It was an amazing evening for me and for this team.”
Osiris-Rex will take two years to reach Bennu, later it will orbit around the asteroid-seeking out the best position before going in to collect the sample.
The Osiris-Rex is an SUV-sized spacecraft and will cover a distance of more than 4 billion miles (6 ½ billion kilometers) by mission’s end in 2023.
This is a first of its kind mission for NASA as it has never chased asteroids before and will be a biggest cosmic haul since the Apollo moon rocks.
The asteroid rock is around 1,600-plus feet (500 meters) across and taller than the Empire State Building. It is believed to harbor carbon dating back 4.5 billion years, to the beginning of our solar system.
Osiris-Rex may lead to asteroid mining missions, according to scientists, and could help protect the planet from menacing space rocks.
Scientists feel the Osiris-Rex could be a start to many asteroid-mining missions to come in the future. This could prove beneficial in protecting the planet from the menacing space rocks.
Japan has already been on a similar mission visiting an asteroid though it didn’t go according to the plan. They are on a yet another mission to gather more samples.
The scope of the Osiris-Rex’s mission is bigger compared to the Japanese mission as this mission is focused on collecting at least 60 grams of dust and gravel, or 2 ounces’ worth when the big day comes in 2020. Prior ground tests have been positive so hopes are high for four to five handfuls.
During the mission, Osiris-Rex will hover like a hummingbird over Bennu, as the spacecraft’s 10-foot (3-meter) mechanical arm touches down like a pogo stick on the surface for three to five seconds. Thrusters will shoot out nitrogen gas to stir up the surface, and the loose particles will be sucked up into the device. They get just three shots at this before the nitrogen gas runs out and the effort abandoned.
The team opted for this touch-and-go procedure instead of landing to increase the odds of success. There has been a lot of research from ground and space telescopes of Bennu, yet no one knows exactly what to expect there. Also, there are fears of anchoring the spacecraft on the surface as it is a difficult situation.
While the mother ship continues to orbit the sun, Osiris-Rex’s freed sample container will parachute down with the asteroid contents in Utah.