NASA announced that OSIRIS-REx, the spacecraft designed to reach asteroids, arrived at their Space Center in Kennedy. This is the first time a NASA device will be exploring an asteroid. The launch will happen in September 2016, and the spacecraft will need two years to reach its target.
Details of the Mission
The asteroid in question is called Bennu, and it had been discovered in 2011. It has a mean radius of 246 m and an estimated mass of 60 billion kg. Bennu is part of the Apollo asteroids, which is the closest asteroid group to Earth.
The mission involves gathering a sample from the surface of the asteroid. The material should weight 57 grams. Aside from having a mechanical arm designed to take the sample, the spacecraft will also be equipped with cameras, a laser altimeter, and spectrometers.
Scientists need this material sample in order to gain more knowledge on the events happening at the beginnings of our solar system. They also hope to discover how water arrived on our planet and maybe what were the exact circumstances of life evolving on Earth.
The vehicle had been designed by a company from Colorado. The rocket launch will take place at Cape Canaveral. The capsule will return after two years, and it is scheduled to land in the desert of Utah.
Another interesting result of the mission may be boosting space travels. As it is an already known fact that asteroids carry valuable materials, if this task will prove to be a success it may trigger other trips to space in search for minerals and other resources.
Reaching the asteroid may be the beginning of space travels with commercial purposes. Asteroid mining seems now more like a possibility than just a scenario.
In January 2004, another spacecraft reached a comet and returned to Earth with the collected particles. The company that built OSIRIS-REx used technology similar to the one in the 2004 trip.
Japanese spacecraft have already reached asteroids in the past. In 2010, Hayabusa returned with samples from the Itokawa asteroid, and in 2010 Hayabusa 2 is expected to land with samples from an asteroid named Ryugu.
The present NASA mission involves reaching the asteroid in 2019. The return of the capsule with the collected materials will take place in 2023.
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