An artist's concept of the OSIRIS-REx's sample collection instrument, TAGSAM.
But the asteroid's rugged, dynamic physique might make for an obstacle course that OSIRIS-REx wasn't created to handle.
This view of the asteroid Bennu ejecting particles from its surface on January 19, 2019, was created by combining two images taken by NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft: a short-exposure photo, which shows the asteroid clearly, and a long-exposure version, which shows the particles clearly.
The asteroid Bennu measures as tall as the Empire State Building and poses a potential threat for Earth in the next century. "We study asteroids like Bennu to learn about the origin of the solar system".
"Throughout OSIRIS-REx's operations near Bennu, our spacecraft and operations team have demonstrated that we can achieve system performance that beats design requirements", said Rich Burns, the mission's project manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. OSIRIS-REx's observations also appear to confirm the presence of hydrated minerals all over the ancient object. "OSIRIS-REx's sample will help us answer some of the biggest questions about where we come from".
In the meantime, OSIRIS-REx will continue to orbit Bennu and collect data, which is no small feat.
The spacecraft also detected numerous larger boulders on the surface, with more than 200 boulders that are over 32 feet in diameter.
NASA researchers said they expect to stick to their 2023 deadline to bring a sample back to Earth, despite the mission's unexpected challenges. Although numerous particles were ejected clear of asteroid, some particles orbited Bennu as satellites before returning to the asteroid's surface, according to NASA.
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The team discovered that Bennu is an active asteroid, meaning it is regularly emitting a plume that spews material into space.
Prof Lauretta added: "Bennu is already surprising us, and our exciting journey there is just getting started".
This image shows a view across asteroid Bennu's southern hemisphere and into space. "A few of these gradual-transferring particles have been noticed over intervals of a minimum of every week, and they look like trapped within the asteroid's gravity discipline and are ending up in orbit round Bennu", he stated.
Japan's space agency said Monday that its Hayabusa2 spacecraft will follow up that up with another risky mission - dropping an explosive on the asteroid to make a crater and then collect underground samples for possible clues to the origin of the solar system. It launched in September 2016 and will spend two years up close and personal with Bennu.
The mission team is now updating its plans for sample collection, known as Touch-and-Go (TAG); the new approach, called Bullseye TAG, aims to accurately target smaller sites. A direct hit is unlikely, but the data gathered during this mission can help determine the best ways to deflect near-Earth asteroids.
Separate research recently found that the asteroid's rotation is speeding up.
"During planetary formation, scientists believe that water was one of many chemical components that accreted to form Earth; however, most scientists think additional water was delivered in part by comets and pieces of asteroids, including water-bearing carbonaceous meteorites", Hamilton said.