NASA's spacecraft arrives at asteroid Bennu

NASA Probe Reaches Asteroid Bennu Ready to Collect Samples

The amount that the signal shifts will help determine how massive the asteroid is. If successful, OSIRIS-REx will be the smallest object to be orbited by a spacecraft. It is only around 500 meters in diameter, but it is considered to be a potentially hazardous asteroid that could collide with Earth sometime in the 22nd Century. Its proximity to us made it a prime target for OSIRIS-REx.

It has been chasing the diamond-shaped body for two years, and will orbit it for another year before scooping some gravel from the asteroid's surface and sending it back to Earth.

The sampling arm will contact the surface of Bennu for five seconds.

The arm has a full range of motion, with joints capable of movement comparable to shoulder, elbow and wrist joints. The spacecraft will collect samples from the space rock which could pave the way for an asteroid mining industry, with some of them worth trillions of dollars due to their minerals which are scarce on Earth such as platinum.

About the size of an SUV, the spacecraft will shadow the asteroid for a year, before scooping up some gravel for return to Earth in 2023. The sample will be packed into a capsule that will drop in the Utah desert in 2023. However, OSIRIS isn't returning to Earth, it's just dropping off its precious cargo.

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Scientists say the ancient asteroid could hold clues to the origin of life. The asteroid fits a number of criteria that make it intriguing and convenient. This means that although it's now 76 million miles away, it gets fairly close to Earth every six years. Along the way, the spacecraft performed a flyby of Earth on September 22, 2017 for a gravity assist to place the craft on its final trajectory to Bennu. This means OSIRIS-REx can match its velocity and touch down briefly.

A Japanese spacecraft has been documenting another close-to-Earth asteroid called Ryugu since June.

Using a circular device much like a car's air filter, and a reverse vacuum to stir up and collect dust, the device aims to grab about two ounces (60 grams) of material from the asteroid's surface, and return it to Earth for further study. It will also give vital information on how to deflect asteroids from their collision course with Earth. Such analyses will address the chief mission goal: helping researchers better understand the solar system's early days, and the role that carbon-rich asteroids such as Bennu may have played in life's emergence on Earth.

NASA scientists suspect Bennu might contain bounties of valuable resources that can be used for future deep space exploration. It's because of objects like Bennu that these resources were delivered to Earth during its formation.

"We have arrived", said Javier Cerna, an engineer at Lockheed Martin, as his colleagues at mission control in Littleton, Colorado cheered and exchanged high-fives, according to a live NASA television broadcast. It is about 1,600 feet (488 meters) wide and most likely broke away from a larger asteroid between Mars and Jupiter a couple of billion years ago. During this period, OSIRIS-REx completed four maneuvers slowing the spacecraft's velocity from approximately 1,100 miles per hour (491 m/sec) to 0.10 miles per hour (0.04 m/sec) relative to Bennu, which resulted in the slower approach speed at the end of the video.

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