On Thursday, NASA launched their space probe, OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer) to track down and collect particles on the surface of an asteroid called Bennu. The asteroid is on NASA’s list of Potentially Hazardous Asteroids because it could potentially collide into Earth.
The journey to Bennu will take two years, and the probe is scheduled to arrive August of 2018. Once it gets close, OSIRIS-REx will slow down and go into orbit around Bennu, taking images every two hours. It will continue to orbit and take images for 365 days, documenting every nook and cranny on the asteroid. In July 2020, the probe will move closer to the surface and an 11 foot robotic arm, called TAGSAM, will move at 4 inches per second towards Bennu’s surface. Once there is contact, the arm will blast nitrogen gas to kick up rocks and dust to collect and store. There are contact pads on the arm that will capture additional material. NASA wants at least 2 ounces of dust and rock.
The probe has the smallest thrusters of any mission in history, reports WIRED. This is because the asteroid is so small and delicate extremely precise maneuvers are required to get close. There are 28 engines on board to navigate the probe for pinpoint maneuvers.
OSIRIS-REx will start its journey back to Earth in March 2021 and arrive on September 24, 2023. The probe will come through the atmosphere at 27,000 mph and deploy the capsule with the samples into the Utah desert.
Read more about Bennu and about the space probe at CNN.
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