NASA has released images (vide) of its first flyby test of the sample collection event on asteroid Bennu, an asteroid located over 100 million kilometers away from Earth.
As revealed by NASA, its OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is getting ready to “land” on the asteroid’s surface in order to retrieve soil samples. The spacecraft is expected to touch down, recover samples, and fly back into space and make its way back to Earth, where it is expected to deliver the collected samples for scientists to study.
The new images–and video–show the daring approach of the robotic spacecraft to its designated landing point as it made is test approach on April 14.
The image sequence offers a perspective of the field of view of the SamCam instrument as the spacecraft approaches and moves away from the surface of the asteroid Bennu. The test brought the spacecraft through the first two maneuvers of the sampling event to the point of approximately 65 meters above the surface The images were recorded during a ten-minute period between the execution of the test “checkpoint” burn, approximately at 120 meters above the surface, and the completion of the recoil burn, which occurred approximately 65 meters above the surface.
As revealed by NASA, the spacecraft’s sampling arm–called the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM)–is visible in the central part of the frame, and the relatively clear, dark patch of Bennu’s sample site Nightingale is visible in the later images, at the top.
The image sequence offers an excellent view of a large, dark boulder on the asteroid’s surface that the spacecraft approaches during the approach. The object is 43 feet (13 meters) on its longest axis.
The video above was created with more than 30 images that were taken by OSIRIS-REx’s SAMCAM camera. For context, the images are oriented with Bennu’s west at the top.
During the sample collection event, which is scheduled for August, the SamCam imager will continuously document the entire event and touchdown maneuver, NASA has revealed.
OSIRIS-REx and Bennu
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission–Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer–is one of NASA’s most prominent asteroid study and sample return missions. OSIRIS-REx is expected to return the sample it will gather from Bennu to Earth in 2023.
The primary goal is to recover at least 60 grams (2.1 oz) from 101955 Bennu, an Apollo group asterid discovered in September 1999.
The object is a potentially-hazardous asteroid listed on the Sentry Risk Table with the second-highest cumulative rating on the Palermo Technical Impact Hazard Scale. On average, an asteroid with a diameter of 500 m (1,600 ft; 0.31 mi) can be expected to impact Earth about every 130,000 years or so. Asteroid Bennu’s mean diameter is estimated at around 490 m (1,610 ft; 0.30 mi).
As revealed by NASA, Bennu has a cumulative 1-in-2,700 chance of impacting Earth between 2175 and 2199. Its name comes from the ancient Egyptian mythological bird associated with the Sun, creation, and rebirth.
Asteroid Bennu is believed to have formed from the breakup of a much larger body, a planetoid, or even proto-planet in the early solar system.