Tech News Summary:
- NASA recently conducted trials to capture asteroid landing samples as part of the OSIRIS-REx mission. The tests took place between July 18 and 20, with the aim of recovering a sample return capsule containing samples from the asteroid Bennu. These samples are scheduled to land on Earth on September 24.
- This recent trial is said to be the most realistic one yet and involved helicopter training for team members who will retrieve the sample capsule from its landing site.
- The importance of collecting these asteroid samples lies in their potential to provide insights into our solar system’s history and potentially contain ancient building blocks of life. The successful recovery of these samples will bring us closer to understanding our universe’s origins and discovering evidence of ancient life forms.
NASA’s Epic Rehearsals: Aiming for Asteroid Sample Landing on September 24
In a groundbreaking mission, NASA is all set to collect samples from an asteroid and bring them back to Earth for the first time ever. With the aim of gaining insights into the origin of our solar system and potential understanding of the existence of life on other planets, the space agency has been meticulously preparing for this epic feat.
The spacecraft, OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer), launched its mission in 2016 and has been circling a near-Earth asteroid named Bennu since 2018. Bennu, measuring around 1,600 feet (500 meters) in diameter, is believed to harbor pristine material from the early days of our solar system.
NASA has announced that the asteroid sample landing is scheduled for September 24, 2023, in the Utah desert, where a predetermined landing site has been selected. However, the process leading up to this monumental event is no simple task.
Over the past few months, NASA has been conducting a series of rehearsals to ensure the success of the sample collection. These rehearsals, commonly referred to as “Touch-and-Go” or TAG events, involve the spacecraft descending to the surface of the asteroid, touching it for a few seconds to collect samples, and then safely returning to space.
The rehearsals began with the spacecraft hovering at a distance of around 213 feet (65 meters) from the asteroid’s surface. During these practice runs, NASA observed how the spacecraft’s instruments and systems responded in a low-gravity environment, studying the regolith (loose surface material) and the area surrounding the landing site.
In August, NASA took the rehearsals a step further by performing a TAG event, where the spacecraft descended within 16 feet (5 meters) of Bennu’s surface. This was the closest the spacecraft had ever come to the asteroid and provided crucial data regarding the operation’s viability. It successfully collected a sample, but due to some unexpected material leakage, not much material was retained.
Reflecting on the rehearsal, Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, said, “Although we may not have captured enough material this time, we have learned so much about Bennu and will apply this knowledge to ensure a successful touchdown on the final attempt.”
NASA is optimistically preparing for the final rehearsal, scheduled for next year, before the grand finale in September 2023. The space agency believes that the second TAG event will achieve the main goal of collecting enough material from Bennu for further analysis on Earth.
Once the precious asteroid sample is secured in the sample return capsule, OSIRIS-REx will embark on its journey back to our planet. On September 24, 2023, the capsule will parachute down to the Utah desert, where NASA scientists will eagerly await its arrival. This will mark an incredible moment in space exploration history as humans lay hands on a sample from an asteroid for the first time.
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission exemplifies the agency’s commitment to expanding our understanding of the universe and pushing the boundaries of scientific exploration. The asteroid sample collection, anticipated to provide invaluable insights into the formation and evolution of our solar system, will undoubtedly open doors to exciting future discoveries and missions in the field of astrobiology.