February 25, 2024

NASA’s asteroid sample-return mission, because of land Sunday, used a Canadian altimeter. In return, we’re getting a chunk of asteroid Bennu

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On Sunday, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will zip previous the Earth, dropping off a particular bundle that may — if all goes nicely — land within the U.S. authorities’s Utah Check and Coaching Vary, about 130 kilometres west of Salt Lake Metropolis. Contained in the little capsule is the most important pattern ever taken from an asteroid. Right here’s what to learn about OSIRIS-REx and its treasured cargo.

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When did it go away Earth?

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OSIRIS-REx — quick for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Useful resource Identification, Safety, Regolith Explorer — left Earth greater than seven years in the past, on Sept. 8, 2016, aboard an Atlas V rocket launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. Since then it has travelled greater than 6.2 billion kms, together with a slingshot manoeuvre previous the Earth in 2017 to choose up further velocity.

The place did it go?

OSIRIS-REx visited 101955 Bennu, a carbon-rich asteroid first found in 1999. It’s roughly spherical and about 500 metres throughout. In October of 2020, the probe made a touch-and-go manoeuvre, primarily bouncing off the floor of the asteroid and dislodging materials, which it then scooped up for return to Earth. Scientists estimate it managed to seize about 250 grams of stuff, excess of different deep area sample-return missions.

What did these missions convey again?

That is NASA’s third pattern return from deep area, not counting the a whole bunch of kilograms of moon rocks gathered by the Apollo astronauts. In 2004, the Genesis spacecraft crashed in Utah, destroying or contaminating most of its cargo of solar-wind particles. Two years later, the Stardust probe returned efficiently with mud gathered from the tail of comet Wild 2. Two Japanese probes have additionally returned small samples (lower than fives grams every) from two comets.

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What was Canada’s function?

The Canadian House Company, which has lengthy had a detailed partnership with NASA, supplied the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter, or OLA. This instrument was used to scan and measure the floor of Bennu and create a 3D mannequin that helped mission planners determine the place to land on the asteroid.

Did Canada receives a commission for this contribution?

It’s about to, and in the absolute best approach. In trade for the OLA, the Canadian House Company will obtain 4 per cent of the return pattern (probably about 10 grams of fabric), which is able to give Canadian scientists their first-ever direct entry to a returned asteroid pattern.

4 per cent could not look like a lot, but it surely’s a lot an even bigger slice than goes to Japan, which is able to get half of 1 per cent. One other 25 per cent shall be divvied up amongst NASA scientists. The remainder, some 70 per cent, shall be preserved, the company says, “for examine by scientists not but born, utilizing applied sciences not but invented, to reply elementary questions in regards to the photo voltaic system.” NASA likes to take the lengthy view.

How will the touchdown work?

OSIRIS-REx will launch the pattern capsule from 100,000 kms out, 4 hours earlier than it’s because of contact down. The capsule, which is about 80 centimetres huge and 50 cms tall, will enter the ambiance at 44,500 kph, slowing down because of friction with the ambiance, after which utilizing parachutes to land at a velocity of about 18 kph. NASA is livestreaming the landing, deliberate for 10:55 a.m. ET Sunday, on NASA TV and at youtube.com/nasa.

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What’s subsequent for OSIRIS-REx?

As soon as it has dropped off the pattern return capsule, the mom ship shall be renamed OSIRIS-APEX (Apophis Explorer) and can head again into deep area for a 2029 rendezvous with asteroid 99942 Apophis, which it is going to examine. It gained’t make any extra pattern returns, nevertheless.

What’s subsequent for asteroid exploration?

NASA is looking this Asteroid Autumn, because of main milestones by three missions. On Oct. 5, asteroid orbiter Psyche is scheduled to launch, on its approach to a 2029 rendezvous with an iron asteroid of the identical title. Then on Nov. 1, the area probe Lucy, which launched final October, will make the primary of a deliberate eight asteroid flybys within the asteroid belt and close to Jupiter.

What’s subsequent for Bennu?

Doubtlessly explosive issues. Bennu is classed as a Close to-Earth Asteroid, and on Sept. 23, 2060, will go Earth at roughly twice the gap to the moon. Seventy-five years after that, it is going to make an excellent nearer go by the Earth, and on Sept. 24, 2182 — 159 years to the day from the pattern return touchdown — it has a 1 in 2,700 likelihood of influence with our planet.

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After that the numbers grow to be a lot tougher to calculate, however scientists suppose Bennu’s destiny is more likely to someday fall into the solar (48 per cent likelihood) or Venus (26 per cent). Any hazard to the Earth is each unlikely and centuries away. However no matter occurs, we’ll at all times have a number of grams of Bennu by which to recollect it.

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