NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Mission: The primary goal of this mission is to collect at least 60 g of the sample from asteroid 101955 Bennu and return the sample to Earth for a detailed analysis.
What is the OSIRIS-REx Mission?
OSIRIS-REx stands for:
O – Origins
S – Spectral
I – Interpretation
R – Resource
I – Identification
S – Security
REx – Regolith Explorer
The words chosen here represent every aspect of the mission. The acronym was chosen about the ancient mythological Egyptian god OSIRIS. He was the underworld lord of the dead.
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid mission started with the launch of OSIRIS-REx on 8th September 2016 at 23:0f UTC. The separation of OSIRIS-REx from the launch vehicle took about 55 minutes after the ignition.
The principal investigator acclaimed that the launch was “exactly perfect”.
OSIRIS-REx left the Earth’s surface on 22 September 2017. Now, the next task for the explorer was to get in the orbit of Bennu and match up to its speed. Luckily there was no obstacle to fail the smartly built spacecraft. On 3 December 2018, NASA affirmed that OSIRIS-REx matched the speed of asteroid Bennu. Finally, on 31 December 2018, OSIRIS-REx entered the orbit around asteroid Bennu. This was the first time in history that a spacecraft was very near to a celestial body.
Sample Successfully Collected
NASA smartly planned four sites from where the sample was to be taken, named Nightingale, Kingfisher, Osprey, and Sandpiper.
Scientists selected Nightingale, located near Bennu’s north pole, as the primary site for sample collection. All the other sites were selected as the backup sites located somewhere near the equator.
On 20 October 2020, Dante Lauretta, the principal investigator of the mission, declared that OSIRIS-REx has successfully touched down asteroid Bennu. There were many questions in the mind of NASA’s scientists. Was the spacecraft able to collect the required amount of sample for research? The images showed that a few particles had escaped from the collector’s head. Eventually, it was observed that they were able to collect more than the required amount of sample.
OSIRIS-REx Collects Sufficient Sample of Asteroid Bennu.
Why asteroid Bennu?
NASA chose asteroid 101955 Bennu as the target asteroid. Why did they choose it? Was it an easy target? No. One of the reasons to choose Bennu was its existence even before the formation of the Solar System. Many existing asteroids existed even before the formation of the solar system, then what was so special in Bennu? Bennu is not only a time capsule from the birth of the Solar System but also is a B-type primitive asteroid, asteroids which are very rare and have undergone negligible geological changed after formation. Scientists wanted to collect samples from Bennu because of the availability of carbonaceous material on its surface which is a key element necessary for life.
Bringing OSIRIS-REx Back to Earth
The team is now preparing for the next phase of the mission, to bring the spacecraft back to Earth. The procedure to bring it back will start from March 2021 when the spacecraft can enter Earth’s orbit. The sample that has collected by the collector is safely stored in the SRC(Space Return Capsule).
The Space Return Capsule stores the sample safely inside it.
The object will be useless if the collected sample does not return to Earth. Before entering the surface of the earth every part of the spacecraft will dismantle leaving the SRC alone. After entering the Earth’s atmosphere, the parachutes attached to SRC will open and it will land at the Air Force’s Utah Test and Training Range.
NASA ARES (Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science Directorate) along with Japan’s Extraterrestrial Sample Curation Center will test the samples. After the testing, we will be able to answer questions like what was the reason for the formation of the solar system? And Are the essentials of human life available anywhere in space? Is there any life beyond Earth?
OSIRIS-REx goes for the launch:
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