A spacecraft developed to get pieces of an asteroid and bring them back to Earth has actually lastly reached its location. After a two-year journey, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft overtook asteroid Bennu, presently situated almost 130 million kilometers from Earth, on December 3.

” We have actually gotten here!” Javier Cerna, a telecom systems engineer with aerospace and defense business Lockheed Martin in Littleton, Colo., revealed when the spacecraft signal came through.

At simply 500 meters large, Bennu is the tiniest item ever to be “orbited” by a spacecraft. However the asteroid’s minor gravity is too weak to keep OSIRIS-REx in a circular orbit the method a satellite may orbit a world like Earth. So the spacecraft will carry out a series of accuracy maneuvers to stay up to date with the asteroid.

” It will actually be record-breaking in regards to the accuracy navigation that we have actually carried out in area,” stated navigation engineer Coralie Adam of KinetX Aerospace, an Arizona-based engineering business.

Over the next 18 months, OSIRIS-REx will map the asteroid with 5 clinical instruments and choose the very best area to get product from among the earliest items in the planetary system.

Planetary researchers believe Bennu is a remaining residue from the earliest days of the planetary system, about 4.5 billion years back. Remote observations have actually revealed that the asteroid is abundant in carbon, a required active ingredient for life in the world. Such asteroids might have brought natural particles to Earth or other planetary bodies, and might hold the secret to comprehending the origins of life.

However researchers require samples from such asteroids as Bennu to figure that out. OSIRIS-REx will utilize an instrument called TAGSAM, brief for Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition System, to get 60 grams to 2 kgs of dust and sand from Bennu’s surface area. That sample will be the biggest returned from area because the Apollo objectives to the moon in the 1970 s, and the biggest ever gotten by a robotic. The probe will gather the product in 2020 and return it to Earth in 2023.

” Our science group is extremely excited to study this product that we’ll return from Bennu,” stated OSIRIS-REx task supervisor Abundant Burns of NASA’s Goddard Area Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “This is product that’s been around because the start of the planetary system.”

OSIRIS-REx is the very first U.S. sample return objective to an asteroid, however not the very first such objective in general. Japan’s Hayabusa objective returned a small quantity of asteroid Itokawa to Earth in 2010 ( SN Online: 6/14/10). The follow-up objective, Hayabusa2, reached asteroid Ryugu in June and will return samples of that asteroid in 2020 ( SN Online: 6/27/18).