NASA to send spacecraft on 1.2B-mile journey to asteroid

By bringing back samples of the asteroid Bennu, scientists hope to learn about the solar system's origins

NASA is less than a month away from launching a spacecraft designed to return a sample of an asteroid to Earth for the first time.

Scientists are hoping the seven-year mission, set to launch on Sept. 8 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, will give them information about the makeup of the solar system, about life on Earth and the potential of life elsewhere in the universe, and about asteroids and how they could affect Earth.

“This mission exemplifies our nation’s quest to boldly go and study our solar system and beyond to better understand the universe and our place in it,” said Geoff Yoder, acting associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “NASA science is the greatest engine of scientific discovery on the planet and [this mission] embodies our directorate’s goal to innovate, explore, discover and inspire.”

The spacecraft knows as OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer) is set to launch on top of an Atlas V 411 rocket.

The spacecraft is expected to travel 1.2 billion miles and reach the near-Earth asteroid Bennu in 2018, and, while flying in formation with the asteroid, will begin making observations of it.

The spacecraft will, for instance, track the asteroid's thermal emissions, which give scientists an idea of how the sun’s heat is affecting its trajectory. Osiris-REx also will look for natural satellites, measure its acceleration, map its surface and study its geological properties.

The spacecraft then will map out potential sample sites.

Osiris-REx will not, however, land on Bennu. Instead, it will draw close to it and use a robotic arm to reach out and release a five-second burst of nitrogen gas, kicking up loose rocks and soil that can then be captured by the spacecraft.

The spacecraft will carry enough nitrogen to make three sample attempts. Scientists hope to collect between 2.1 ounces and 4.4 pounds of soil and rock samples.

Osiris-REx is expected to leave the asteroid in March 2021 by firing its main engines to reach a speed of 716 mph. It is expected to return to Earth orbit in September 2023. The spacecraft would then jettison the capsule carrying the asteroid sample.

Osiris-REx would remain in the Earth orbit, while the capsule makes its way down to the Utah desert on Sept. 24, 2023. The sample would be taken to the Johnson Space Center for analysis.

Bennu, according to NASA, was likely formed by the rubble of an exploding star smashing into material in a nebula. Over the millions of years that it has traveled through space, the asteroid has been whittled down by the gravity of planets it’s passed.

Because of its age, the asteroid is expected to contain materials that were present when the solar system was first formed and that may have had a role in the origin of life itself.

By studying that material, scientists hope to get more information about the origin of the solar system and about life as we know it.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags NASA

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Sharon Gaudin

Computerworld (US)
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?