Published: 2016-02-19 15:36:35
Updated: 2016-02-19 15:36:35
Posted February 19, 2016
By Tony Rice
NASA is sending the OSIRIS-REx probe to return samples from the asteroid Bennu. The mission follows on Japan’s Hayabusa probe which landed on near-Earth asteroid 25143 Itokawa in November 2005 and gathered a few grains of asteroidal material which were returned to Earth in 2010.
OSIRIS-REx plans include the return of a sample for analysis, mapping of the asteroid and comparison of spacecraft observations of the asteroid to ground-based observations. Launch is planned for 2016 aboard an Atlas V rocket. About 2 years later, OSIRIS-REx will begin braking maneuvers as it catches up with the asteroid. The spacecraft will arrive in late 2019 where it will slow to about half a mile per hour relative to Bennu. The touch-and-go maneuver will happen at less than one quarter mile per hour.
OSIRIS-REx will complete other mission objectives during the wait until March 2021 before it can return to Earth. By September 2023, the spacecraft returns to Earth orbit where the sample return capsule will reenter Earth’s atmosphere at over 27,000 mph. The seven-year mission will come to an end in the Utah desert on September 24, 2023, with the precious cargo of asteroidal material.
Bennu is a carbonaceous asteroid (made up of rock and sediment containing carbon) about 1,600 feet wide. Asteroids like Bennu record the earliest history of our solar system. Bennu may also contain the molecular precursors to the origin of life and the Earth’s oceans.
NASA’s near-earth object (NEO) tracking program is particularly interested in Bennu. Current data shows a relatively high probability of the asteroid impacting the Earth in about 150 years. Mapping data provided by the mission will help improve those predictions. The probe will also measure the Yarkovsky effect, or sunlight’s ability to change the trajectory of asteroids, also of great interest to the NEO tracking program.
The chance to add your name to a chip placed aboard the spacecraft ended last year, but a new opportunity has opened up a more creative opportunity is now available.
You can send a little bit of you, your kids or your students (attention teachers!) to the asteroid 32.7 million miles away aboard OSIRIS-REx. Submissions may take the form of a sketch, photograph, graphic, poem, song, short video or other creative or artistic expression. Submissions are being accepted until Sunday, March 20, or when the drive being attached to the spacecraft is full, which ever happens first.
The mission team is accepting creations via Twitter or Instagram by including the mission account @OSIRISRex and the hashtag #WeTheExplorers in your message. Videos may also be shared via YouTube or Vimeo by including that hashtag. NASA has published full details on the OSiRISRex mission web site, http://www.asteroidmission.org/WeTheExplorers/
Tony Rice is a volunteer in the NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador program and software engineer at Cisco Systems. You can follow him on twitter @rtphokie.