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NASA's Asteroid Sampling Spacecraft begins its Science Work Today

  NASA's Asteroid Sampling Spacecraft begins its Science Work Today

On August 17, 2018, NASA's OSIRIS-REX spacecraft received its first images of its Asteroid Asteroid Bennu target. OSIRIS-REX was about 1

.4 million miles from Bennu at that time.

Credit: NASA / Goddard / University of Arizona

NASA's asteroid sampling OSIRIS-REx probe switches out of pure chase mode.

OSIRIS-REX, launched against the 1,640-foot wide (500 meters) near the Earth's Asteroid Bennu in September 2016, begins to study the space stone far from today, September 11th. ] "Big Day for @OSIRISREX – We begin our first scientific observations – Search for dustpots around Bennu," Mission Researcher Dante Lauretta, Professor of Earth Sciences and Cosmology at the University of Arizona Lunar and Planet Laboratory, said via Twitter today. [OSIRIS-REx: NASA’s Asteroid Sample-Return Mission in Pictures]

A better understanding of the Bennus dam environment will help keep OSIRIS-REx safe as it approaches the asteroid later this year, NASA officials said. The spacecraft is scheduled to reach Bennu on December 3th and slip into the orbit around the spacecraft four weeks later, December 31st.

OSIRIS-REX – whose name is short for "Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security – Regolith Explorer" – continues to study Bennu for a while from orbit. Then, by mid 2020, it will cross down to the asteroid's surface and grab a selection of material coming back to earth in a special return capsule in September 2023.

Scientists around the world will pore over this cosmic dirt and gravel, hunting for clues about the early days of the solar system and the role of colonial asteroids that Bennu may have played to deliver water and the chemical building blocks of life to earth.

The test will also be likely to be of interest to asteroid miners, as it is expected to disclose details about resource potential in Bennu and other spacestones as the mission team members have said.

The $ 800 million OSIRIS-REx mission will also contribute to the planning's defense. The probe's observations should, for example, help scientists to better understand the forces that form potentially dangerous asteroids "through space," Lauretta said during a NASA news conference last month. (Bennu himself is potentially dangerous, there is a very small chance that it could hit the earth at the end of the 20th century.)

OSIRIS-REX is not the only asteroid samplings spacecraft currently active. Japan's Hayabusa2 probe arrived at its goal, the great asteroid Ryugu, this summer and exercise for its first touchdown maneuver, which is scheduled to happen next month.

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