On Thursday, NASA will launch an ambitious mission to explore asteroid Bennu. It is going to send a vehicle-sized robot spacecraft complete with a mechanical arm. The two-year journey to the asteroid nearby is supposed to map the surface, search for organic compounds and mine a soil sample for delivery to Earth. Back home, the sample will be analyzed in depth.
The OSIRIS-Rex acronym stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security Regolith Explorer. With such an ambitious mission ahead of it, the OSIRIS-Rex will be launched from Cape Canaveral by the United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket, this Thursday, at 7:05 pm EDT.
The weather forecast predicts a 70 percent chance of clear skies. The mission launch comes just one week after the Falcon 9 rocket exploded while it was tested. The explosion obliterated the 62 million dollar rocket and the satellite payload, in the value of 195 million dollars.
Engineers have reassured the public that the OSIRIS-Rex was not affected by the explosion, so there is no reason to postpone the lift off. Everything is in place for launching the robotic visitor to Bennu, the small asteroid orbiting close to Earth. Astronomers believe that Bennu is a witness of the early cloud of gas and dust which formed the solar system. They speculate it could be rich in carbon since it was there 4.6 billion years ago when the solar system took shape.
The equipment on OSIRIS-Rex includes a mapping camera, two spectrometers to look for minerals, a laser, and an X-Ray device. OSIRIS-Rex will take a detailed look at Bennu, and then it will deploy the robot arm to collect a sample of regolith (asteroid soil).
Powering the robotic arm in space will require nitrogen gas to blow up pieces of the asteroid, so they can be collected. Astronomers hope for at least 2.1 ounces of regolith.
After storing the captured material in a capsule, the OSIRIS-Rex will come back to Earth in March 2021. The journey which will last for another two years. The asteroid sample will be released on September, 24th, 2023 in Utah.
It will be transported to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, where the Apollo moon rocks are kept and it will undergo a two-year analysis.
Image Source – Wikipedia