NASAs' OSIRIS-Rex mission - Background
- It is an unmanned spacecraft.
- The total Turnaround cost of the OSIRIS Rex spacecraft is roughly $800 million (6000 crore INR)
- A new milestone was achieved by NASA’s OSIRIS spacecraft. So far it is the smallest object (in space exploration) to be circled by an artificial satellite.
- This unique spacecraft designed and launched by US NASA has a return journey back to Earth with samples from the asteroid.
- Launched in the year 2016 from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
What to Expect from OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft?
- The agenda is OSIRIS-Rex to orbit and map the asteroid in “Bennu” high resolution and use a suite of five scientific instruments to collect data to help scientists study samples.
- In the year 2020, OSIRIS-Rex will use its robotic arm to touchdown (possibly the first handshake with an asteroid, or “gentle high-five” as mentioned by the OSIRIS-Rex program manager with Lockheed Martin Space Systems)
- It will collect the dust from the asteroid (60 grams) and return back to earth in the year 2023.
About the Mission
OSIRIS is the Egyptian God, but here in the case of OSIRIS-Rex stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer.
It is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers program, the previously two sent were New Horizons to Pluto and the Juno spacecraft into orbit around Jupiter.
Why was Bennu, What makes it so Special?
There were certain criteria attached to this mission, particularly in selecting asteroid selection for the mission such as OSIRIS-Rex. Their criteria/yardsticks were as such ...
- Proximity to Earth: For OSIRIS-Rex to return back to earth safely, the asteroid should have had the same orbit as Earth.
- Size of Asteroid: Yes! size does matter on a cosmic scale and is mission-critical, small asteroids rotate/spin fast and thus the regolith deposits are hard to find on them (because it’s thrown into open space). NASA needed an asteroid with a slow spin, thus this made Bennu an ideal candidate.
- Composition: It is believed that most of the asteroids are over billions of years old. They seem not to change so often and have been there since the beginning of the solar system. It may/may not have a carbon-rich organic composition (precursors of life on our Pale Blue Dot)
Bennu is also, a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid (PHA). Every 6 years (2190 days) Bennu’s orbit brings it within 200,000 miles of the Earth, this closeness is not welcoming, which means it has a high potential and probability of impacting Earth in the late 22nd Century (May or May not, this is speculation, you keep up with your reading!).