A Spacecraft will Correct Samples from an Asteroid without Touching it

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OSIRIS- Rex was launched two years ago and it spent most of its time on tracking down an asteroid called Bennu. Researchers believe that samples from Bennu may help them to find out if alien life can be encountered on other other planets and evaluate if the asteroid may be a threat against Earth.

Classified as Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource identification Security Regolith Explorer, the spacecraft will mark a landmark when it comes to interplanetary exploration.

During the Apollo missions 842 pounds of lunar rock samples were collected by astronauts and some are analyzed even today. While humans were vital during the Apollo mission the responsibility of collecting samples from other areas has been delegated to robots.

In 2006 NASA managed to collect dust from the tail of a comet. The Japanese Hayabusa spacecraft brought home valuable samples despite the fact that the collection device failed to function properly.

In the case of OSIRIS-REx scientists are quite optimistic. They believe that the spacecraft will be able to collect at least 60 grams (approximately 2 oz.) of regolith. It is generally thought that asteroids like Bennu may offer valuable traces of the ingredients that constitute life.

The main problem is posed by the strict landing procedures that are required in order to land the spacecraft safely.

Bennu is a relatively small asteroid since it  only measures about 500 meters or 1,600 feet in width. The petite size translates into an equally minimal gravitational pool which is up to 100,000 lower than the one that is encountered here on Earth.

In order to exploit these unique conditions the team created an innovative sampling protocol. The spacecraft won’t land per se on the surface of the asteroid but merely touch the surface for the few seconds that are needed in order to collect the samples. It will than blast of and move towards another target area.

While the plan seems simple it is estimated that over a year will be spent on surveys in order to determine the most suitable areas for sample harvesting.


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