NASA's OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft to Touch the Surface of Asteroid Bennu

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

NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft arrives at asteroid Bennu

This close approach, followed by a flyby December 4, up is the first in a series of planned meet ups between the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) and Bennu. So we going to get a lot of information about Bennu while we're at the asteroid that will inform us in terms of ultimately where we will go to the surface to collect our sample.

Both the spacecraft and the asteroid's names come from Egyptian mythology. This will get a mass estimate, refine the spin-state model, and generate a 75 cm global shape model.

"Today has been very exciting, but the true nail-biting moment will be the sample collection".

Though sample return is a major and complex part of this mission, OSIRIS-REx will study other aspects of the asteroid too. This means that the components that make up the asteroid could be the same materials that formed the planets and sun in our solar system.

This carbon-rich asteroid could be full of organic molecules, metals, platinum and even water - the essential ingredients for life.

This meeting will provide scientists with a rare window to look back at the beginnings of Earth's solar system, said Jay McMahon, an assistant professor in aerospace engineering at CU Boulder.

NASA's mission to send a probe to an asteroid, dig up a chunk, and send the material back to Earth is now half-way complete.

Since the spacecraft's launch in September 2016, the CSIRO-managed, Canberra-based DeepSpace Communication Complex facility has provided two-way communication with the spacecraft.

A NASA probe has become the first visitor to drop in on an ancient asteroid in billions of years. "Initial data from the approach phase show this object to have exceptional scientific value. The exploration of Bennu has just begun, and we have a lifetime of adventure ahead of us". "We've been preparing for this moment for years, and we're ready".

All about Bennu: Bennu is a primitive, carbon-rich asteroid believed to be made up of leftovers from the formation of the solar system 4.5 billion years ago. It is also the first mission to study a potentially hazardous asteroid and try to determine the factors that alter their courses to bring them close to Earth.

The asteroid Bennu, as seen by NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft from a distance of about 50 miles (80 kilometers). Analysis of the regolith will also tell us more about the effects of space weathering on the surface of small bodies from harsh solar radiation.

Now, at about 19 kilometres from Bennu's Sun-facing surface, OSIRIS-REx will first begin a preliminary survey of the asteroid, NASA said.

On Tuesday, the spacecraft will fly within 5 miles of Bennu, which will help design future orbits and map the surface.

The sample will return to Earth for study, scheduled to arrive in September 2023.

Osiris-Rex aims to collect at least 60 grams, or 2 ounces, of dust and gravel.

"It will really be record-breaking in terms of the precision, the navigation, compared to anything we've done before", said flight navigator Coralie Adam, an engineer at aerospace company KinetX.

OSIRIS-REx is in no hurry.

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