On September eighth, 2016, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Useful resource Identification, Safety, Regolith Explorer) mission launched from Earth. Its main mission was to rendezvous with the asteroid Bennu, a carbonaceous Near-Earth Asteroid (NEA), acquire samples from its floor, and return them to Earth for evaluation. On December third, 2018, the mission reached Bennu and spent the following two years looking for the optimum place to retrieve these samples. Tomorrow, on Sunday, September 24th, the mission will lastly ship these samples to Earth for evaluation.
Final week, on Saturday, September 16th, the OSIRIS-REx mission was noticed by the ESA’s Optical Ground Station (OGS) 1-meter telescope on the island of Tenerife, Spain. The spacecraft was nonetheless 4.66 km million (2.9 million mi) from Earth, however nicely on its approach to returning. This would be the final time OSIRIS-REx can be noticed by ground-based telescopes earlier than it reaches Earth to ship its pattern and heads again out into house.
The image of OSIRIS-REx (proven under) is a mixture of 90 particular person pictures captured by the OGS telescope, every of which had a 36-second publicity. The small speck on the middle of the picture is the spacecraft on its method again to Earth, whereas the massive streaks within the background are stars that seem warped and curved due to how the photographs have been mixed to account for the movement of the spacecraft. The pictures have been commissioned by the ESA’s Near-Earth Object Coordination Centre (NEOCC), a part of the company’s Planetary Defence Office (PDO) accountable for figuring out probably hazardous asteroids (PHA).
The OGS telescope that took the photographs was initially constructed to watch house particles in orbit and check laser and quantum communication applied sciences. Its goal has since expanded to conduct surveys and follow-up research of NEAs and night-time observations. It has additionally found dozens of minor planets and perfectly-suited to identify and snap photos of OSIRIS-REx on its method house.
Since asteroids are primarily leftover materials from the formation of the Photo voltaic System, the evaluation of those samples is anticipated to disclose extra about its historical past and evolution. This contains the preliminary phases of planet formation, how water and natural molecules have been distributed to Earth and different our bodies, and the way life emerged on Earth (and maybe elsewhere). Whereas among the pattern was misplaced when the spacecraft’s sampler head failed to shut fully (quickly jammed open by bigger rocks), NASA is assured that the spacecraft retained 400 g to over 1 kg (0.88 to 2.2 lbs) of fabric.
On Sunday, the mission will drop its pattern capsule into Earth’s ambiance, which can deploy chutes and land safely on the U.S. Air Power’s Utah Test and Training Range (UTTR). OSIRIS-REx will then proceed onto the following leg of its mission, which can be to review Apophis, the NEA that was beforehand thought to pose a possible threat to Earth – aka. a Potentially-Hazardous Asteroid (PHA). The choice to rendezvous with and examine this asteroid was introduced on April twenty fifth, 2022, when NASA confirmed that the mission has been prolonged and would henceforth be generally known as OSIRIS-APEX (‘APophis EXplorer’).
The mission will coincide with Apophis making a particularly shut go to the Earth on April thirteenth, 2029. Roughly per week later, OSIRIS-APEX will rendezvous with Apophis and orbit the asteroid for about 18 months. Simlar to what it carried out with Bennu, the spacecraft will spend this time on the lookout for an optimum place to set down and accumulate samples. It would additionally carry out manuevers the place it makes use of its thrusters to disturb regolith on Apophis’s floor to reveal the fabric beneath, which has been shielded from cosmic rays and photo voltaic radiation and can present extra beneficial knowledge.
Related sample-return missions have been mounted lately by JAXA’s Hayabusa and Hayabusa II missions, which returned samples from the asteroids Itokawa and Ryugu (respectively). Collectively, these missions and the samples they’ve returned have helped broaden our understanding of objects within the Photo voltaic System, its formation and evolution, and helped handle among the deeper mysteries of how life started.
Additional Studying: ESA