Nasa probe reaches Bennu - asteroid that could one day hit Earth

For God’s sake fund it’ Former NASA astronaut makes dire plea to protect us from killer asteroids

Watch NASA live stream the arrival of its OSIRIS-REx asteroid probe

"But while the spacecraft might tell us some things about where we have been and where we are headed, it also can remind us of where we are right now", NASA officials said in a statement. Cerna watched his computer screen closely as the spacecraft's radio frequency shifted, indicating a change in velocity.

"Initial data from the approach phase show this object to have exceptional scientific value", said Dante Lauretta, the mission's principal investigator.

OSIRIS-REx - whose name stands for "Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer" - won't leave Bennu until March 2021, when the probe will head back toward its home planet. It will first survey the asteroid's surface for a year, before selecting a safe and "scientifically interesting' location to scoop up some rocks". The final images were obtained from a distance of about 65 km kilometers.

The OSIRIS-REx, after some moments of drama caused by the explosion of a Falcon 9 on a nearby launch pad and some quick work to ensure that this incident would not cause a loss of cooling capability to the spacecraft on its launch pad, launched successfully on September 8, 2016, at 7:05 pm Eastern Daylight Time.

The Osiris-Rex mission is one of the most ambitious asteroid surveys to date, aiming to bring back between 60 grams (two ounces) and two kilograms of regolith (dust and gravel from the asteroid's topsoil), the most extraterrestrial material retrieved since the Apollo mission landed on the moon.

NASA has had a busy few months already but its OSIRIS-REx asteroid probe isn't waiting for anyone. For example, the probe's measurements, and those of researchers studying the returned sample, should reveal a great deal about the resource potential of Bennu-like asteroids. The amount that the signal shifts will help determine how massive the asteroid is.

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During the first flyby, the spacecraft's Canadian-provided laser altimeter, OLA, will be powered on to start making topographic maps of Bennu's surface.

"OSIRIS-REx will return the sample to Earth in September 2023". The 25 November set was taken from a slightly longer distance than the 65 kilometer-range of the 27 November set. Osiris is the god of the afterlife, while Bennu represents the heron and creation.

Sitting at mission control at the Denver offices of Lockheed Martin, which operates the spacecraft for NASA, engineer Javi Cerna waited for the signal indicating OSIRIS-REx had begun the burn needed to bring it close to its target. Bennu orbits the Sun on a path fairly similar to Earth's, so the spacecraft had to circle the Sun and catch up to the asteroid. The mission team expects to narrow the possibilities to two sites by July 2020, which is when the sample collection is scheduled to take place.

Osiris-Rex is the first USA mission created to return a piece of an asteroid to Earth.

To capture samples on the surface, the craft will hover over a specific area and "will be sent down at a very slow and gently" 4 inches (10 cm) per second. "There's a lot of boulders here; it's rough and rugged". That's where the CU Boulder team comes in. It is expected to return the sample to Earth in September 2023, according to NASA.

"Once we have this data, we can plug it back in and that will help with planning out the trajectory for the rest of the mission", said Daniel Brack, a graduate student in aerospace engineering and a participant in the project. "The exploration of Bennu has just begun, and we have a lifetime of adventure ahead of us". USU's SDL provided the detector assemblies for the OSIRIS-REx Camera Suite.

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