The asteroid Benu is going to play ‘tag’ with NASA’s spacecraft

NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission prepares for touchdown on an asteroid

The OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft has been traveling to Hurricane Benu since the end of 2018. Mission – which means Origin, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer – was launched in September, 2016.

Since arriving in Benue, the spacecraft and its cameras have been assembled and sent back to help the team learn more about the ship’s structure and map out the best possible landing sites for sample collection.

The main event of the mission, called the Touch-and-Go Sampling Event or TAG, will be held on October 20 at 5 p.m.

The planets and spacecraft are currently about 207 million miles from Earth, which will cause a communication delay of 18.5 minutes. The NASA team shows the livestream animation what is happening based on the commands that have already been sent to OSIRIS-REx to collect the sample.

The spacecraft will complete the entire sequence of reaching the storm and collecting the sample itself as live commands from Earth may not be possible.

Based on the data returned by the spacecraft, the mission team should be able to confirm that the touchdown on Tuesday was not successful.

The spacecraft has actually conducted two exercises without touching the storm, so its team is ready for this highly anticipated event.

However, Benu is not what scientists expect. The Nightingale landing site is under threat, so the mission will need to run smoothly.

The OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft will have to detect hazards and delay its mission if there are any obstacles in the way of sample collection. But if all goes well, the spacecraft and its precious specimen will embark on a long journey to return to Earth next year and the specimen will land on Earth in 2023.

Dodging building-sized stones

Imagine a van carrying 15 passengers into space and approaching a cliff that holds the height of the Empire State Building and spins rapidly. The same OSIRIS-REx mission is for Benu.

Benu has a circle that brings it closer to the earth, hence it is considered to be the closest star to the earth. One approach to its future could bring it dangerously close to Earth in the next century; It has 2,700 chances to affect our planet.

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Benu’s specimens can help scientists understand not only the planets that can affect the Earth, but also how planets are formed and how life began. In total, the spacecraft will collect about 2 ounces, or 30 packets of sugar, from the ship.

Although it may seem small, it is the largest sample return from space since the Apollo program, according to NASA.

But first, Osiris-RX has to take a short, narrow path to get to the nightingale landing site, inside the planet.

NASA's Osiris-Rex mission prepares to touch down on a planetary storm

The touchdown area has been reduced to almost a tenth of the actual plan, so accuracy is important. On the east side of the crater sits a building-shaped boulder that could threaten the spacecraft as it retreats away from a planet once the specimen is collected.

Benu is “almost not the sandy beach we’ve been hoping for and expected,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate manager of NASA’s science mission directorate, told a news conference in September.

Instead, scientists discovered that the planetary mass is covered with house-sized rocks. The team used the spacecraft to map the spacecraft and locate four possible landing sites. Nightingale was finally chosen as the best.

“We chose Nightingale because it has the best class material for candidates from all four sampling sites so far,” said Dante Loretta, the mission’s lead investigator and a professor at the Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory.

“We spent the early 2020s rebuilding the site at a low altitude, finally on an eight-inch by one-pixel image. We actually have incredibly detailed images covering the entire cart, and we’ve got all those rocks. Counted. “

Going inside for a touchdown

The nightingale landing site is 52 feet in diameter, about the size of some parking lots where a van-sized spacecraft will only touch for a few seconds. There is no room for error; Building-sized stones are a few steps away.

The event will take about 4.5 hours to unfold and the spacecraft will make three moves to collect the specimen.

The spacecraft will first leave its safe circle around the storm to ignite the storm, which is about 2,500 feet above the surface and will travel four hours before reaching a distance of just 410 feet. Then, the spacecraft will adapt to keep decreasing position and speed.

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Next, OSIRIS-RX will slow down its descent to target a path so it coincides with the rotation of the planet during contact. Its solar panels will be folded in a Y-wing configuration over the spacecraft to protect them.

Finally, the OSIRIS-REx will touch in less than 16 seconds. The spacecraft will throw a pressurized nitrogen bottle into the storm, which will use the gas to lift the material from the surface of the bean.

The 2 different stars observed by the spacecraft can be part of 1 large small planet at a time

The astronaut collector’s head will capture the inflamed material. Located on an 11-foot-long robotic sampling arm, the head is the only part of the spacecraft that will touch Bennu. The team compares it to an air filter in an older model car, perfect for collecting fine materials.

Small discs, which can collect dust like sticky pads, are located on the head even if part of the sample exercise does not go according to plan.

A camera on the spacecraft will collect footage of the event.

“We’ll be able to tell if we were inclined, if the gas was flowing to the side, if there was a lot of tension in the material,” Loretta said. “We will also have a very good indication of the exact location of the nightingale where we contacted and we can compare it with our sample map, to assess if we touch an area where there is a lot of sample material. Or a rocky place. “

Then, the spacecraft’s thrusters will be fine and help it return to the surface of Benu and reach a safe distance once again.

The OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft will automatically go through these moves and ultimately decide whether it is safe or not. The spacecraft will rely on its natural feature tracking navigation system, which actively captures images during landing and compares them to images stored in a catalog in a spacecraft to ensure that it is accurate. Is on the way. This will affect each stage of landing and access.

If this path is lost, the spacecraft will end the effort.

The navigation system also includes a hazard map of the landing site, and if it detects that the spacecraft is approaching a hazard, it will stop at 16 feet from the storm and will not continue with effort.

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This means that OSIRIS-REx can stay safe and try to collect another sample in the future.

Examining the Earth

During each phase, the spacecraft will send data back to NASA researchers on Earth, allowing them to determine if the touchdown was successful. While there will be only a limited number of teams in Lockheed Martin Space’s mission support area due to the epidemic, others will be on site at various locations to oversee the event.

To make sure the spacecraft actually collected a sample, an OSISIS-REx camera will take pictures of the head of the collection on October 22. And on October 24, the spacecraft will make a spin to determine the mass of the material it collected.

Although the target is 2 ounces, the OSRIS-RX can hold up to 4 pounds.

If sample collection is planned, the head and sample will be placed in the sample return capsule to return to Earth and sealed.

But if the collection fails or there is not enough material, in January 2021 there are two more nitrogen charges for future efforts at another site called Osprey.

NASA plans to collect the first specimen from a ship that aims to achieve

In all, team members will spend a week figuring out what they have collected and making sure the spacecraft and its equipment survive without competition.

“So far, the most likely result we will get on October 20 is that we will contact the surface and come back with a larger sample that exceeds our requirements. But Benu has already thrown a lot of curved balls at us. We’re totally ready to tag the Osprey (backup site) if necessary, “said Mike Morrow, deputy project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

Recently, scientists discovered that the best content of the Nightingale site was recently exposed to the space environment. This means that the material collected by OSIRIS-REx will be the ship’s oldest material.

And the Benu specimen that will be returned to Earth will not be anything like what we have on Earth, NASA scientists say, because what they have learned about Bannu is unexpected.

About the author: Raven Weber

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