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Tech & Science NASA finally closes in on touchdown spot on messy, rocky asteroid Bennu

06:05  05 december  2019
06:05  05 december  2019 Source:   cnet.com

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NASA 's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft successfully touched down and reached out its robotic arm to collect a sample from the surface of near-Earth asteroid Bennu on Tuesday. The sample will be returned to Earth in 2023, a historic first for NASA .

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a person in a dark room: This illustration shows Osiris-Rex touching asteroid Bennu during a sample collection operation. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center © Provided by CNET This illustration shows Osiris-Rex touching asteroid Bennu during a sample collection operation. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center We know it can be done. Japan's Hayabusa-2 spacecraft triumphantly scooped up a bit of asteroid Ryugu before heading home. NASA hopes it will soon have similar success with the Osiris-Rex mission currently in residence at asteroid Bennu. It's going to be challenging.

NASA is days away from choosing a sample site for its intrepid spacecraft's sample collection operation, the agency announced on Wednesday. It hasn't been an easy process. In July, NASA narrowed the options down to four sites with bird-themed names: Nightingale, Kingfisher, Osprey and Sandpiper. 

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Spot the Station. NASA Newsletter. After the successful completion of its “Checkpoint” rehearsal, NASA ’s first asteroid -sampling spacecraft is one step closer to touching down on asteroid Bennu .

Touchdown ! NASA makes historic landing on 'doomsday asteroid ' Bennu as OSIRIS-REx extends its 11-foot robotic arm to collect rock NASA 's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has made a historic touchdown on the asteroid Bennu , dodging boulders the size of buildings to collect samples from the surface for

a sign on the side of a building: These are the four potential sample sites on asteroid Bennu. NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona © Provided by CNET These are the four potential sample sites on asteroid Bennu. NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

Osiris-Rex has been performing reconnaissance flybys of the sites, snagging high-resolution images and giving its team plenty of food for thought. 

Bennu is a much messier, rockier place than NASA expected. It's littered with boulders, some of which are as big as buildings. 

The agency had hoped to find a spacious sandy area free of obstacles. "In reality the potential sample sites are not large, clear areas, but rather small spaces surrounded by large boulders, so navigating the spacecraft in and out of the sites will require a bit more fine-tuning than originally planned," said NASA in a release on Wednesday.

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Bennu is a much messier , rockier place than NASA expected. The agency had hoped to find a spacious sandy area free of obstacles, but the asteroid is littered with boulders, some of which are as big as buildings. "I thought it was going to be a straightforward site selection, and it was nothing of the

NASA 's OSIRIS-REx asteroid probe spent many months flying through space in order to meet up with its target, a large space rock known The spacecraft's mission will be carried out over the next couple of years, but its arrival at Bennu means that we finally get a very close -up shot of the rock itself.

A composite image of Bennu taken from OSIRIS-REx at a distance of 330 km (205 miles). © NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

A composite image of Bennu taken from OSIRIS-REx at a distance of 330 km (205 miles).

Osiris-Rex has a built-in safety system that will abort the sample collection run if the spacecraft detects a potential hazard. The trick will be navigating it down to Bennu's surface in a spot that won't trigger the system. 

"If the spacecraft executes a wave-off while attempting to collect a sample, that simply means that both the team and the spacecraft have done their jobs to ensure the spacecraft can fly another day. The success of the mission is our first priority," said deputy project manager Mike Moreau.

We'll soon know which bird will come out on top. NASA will name a primary and a backup site. Sample collection is scheduled for mid-2020. If all goes well, Osiris-Rex will bring a bit of Bennu back to Earth in late 2023. 

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