On September 24th, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft released a capsule into Earth’s orbit, allowing it to be drawn down by the planet’s gravitational force. Subsequently, parachutes were deployed, and the capsule gently touched down in Utah, USA. Experts were on standby to recover its precious cargo: approximately 250 grams of rocks and dust collected by OSIRIS-REx from the surface of the asteroid 101955 Bennu.
Justifying the need to study the asteroid Bennu, give the details of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission and its recent developments. (10 marks, 150 words).
- Bennu, an asteroid in orbit around the sun with a 436-day period, periodically comes close to Earth every six years or so.
- It is a carbonaceous asteroid, suggesting it assumed its current form and composition within 10 million years of the solar system’s formation, remaining remarkably intact over the last 4.5 billion years.
- These remnants are anticipated to provide insights into the constituents of the solar system and the processes that amalgamated them in diverse ways.
- Some scientists hypothesize that asteroids like Bennu, when colliding with Earth, may have delivered the compounds necessary for life formation.
- Additionally, as Bennu poses a potential impact threat between 2178 and 2290, studying it could contribute to strategies for preventing such collisions.
About OSIRIS-REx Mission:
- NASA initiated the OSIRIS-REx mission (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer) in 2016.
- Two years later, scientists maneuvered it into orbit around Bennu at an altitude of just 2 km, while the asteroid itself was hurtling through space at 28 km/s.
- On October 20, 2020, OSIRIS-REx briefly landed to collect a sample from a predetermined location on the asteroid before ascending.
- In May 2021, it began its return journey to Earth, delivering the capsule containing Bennu’s regolith. Following this, it will transform into its OSIRIS-APEX incarnation to rendezvous with the silica-rich asteroid 99942 Apophis in 2029.
- The OSIRIS mission is dual in nature, collaborating with Japan’s Hayabusa missions, which have gathered samples from Itokawa and Ryugu, to expand our understanding of the solar system’s history.
As NASA’s third element in the ‘New Frontiers’ program, after New Horizons and Juno, OSIRIS involves significant commercial aspects, including opportunities for space mining and impact mitigation technologies. Nevertheless, it is also part of an enduring quest to unravel the origins of life and contemplate its destiny. With OSIRIS’s capsule, humanity seemingly grasps infinity in the palm of its hand.