NASA’s Osiris-REx mission will bring unprecedented extraterrestrial samples to Earth

The ship will send a capsule to our planet with valuable parts obtained from the asteroid Bennu, originating from the beginning of the solar system.

At an altitude of 102,000 kilometers and at a speed of 23,000 km/h, pieces of asteroids will arrive from space. But they will not do it alone, but will be sent by the probe”Origins, spectral interpretation, resource identification and security-Regolith Explorer » , better known as Osiris-REx, of the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA).

Launched on September 8, 2016, the spacecraft traveled to a near-Earth asteroid called Bennu, formerly 1999 RQ36, and collected a sample of rocks and dust from the surface. On September 17, NASA Osiris-REx engineers they slightly modified the trajectory of the spacecraft to refine the landing location of its sample capsule that the ship will deliver to Earth on September 24.

The probe briefly fired its thrusters on Sunday change its speed by 3 millimeters per second, relative to the Earth .

This latest corrective maneuver moved the sample capsule’s planned landing location eastward nearly 12.5 kilometers to the center of its landing zone, predetermined in an area of ​​58 kilometers by 14 kilometers, in the United States Department of Defense Test and Training Range, Utah.

“The OSIRIS-REx mission seeks to find some answers to the central questions we ask ourselves as humans. One of them, of course, is where we came from and how our solar system formed, because we know that asteroids can give us that answer. a”, details Leidy Peña, astronomer at the University of Concepción and researcher of CATA Center for Astrophysics and Related Technologies.

Furthermore, the astronomer explains that the asteroids sent by the Osiris-Rex probe can help us know the fate of the solar system. “Asteroids, the process of forming planetary systems, can also tell us a little more about the history of the Sun and the rest of the planets,” he says.

This mission was specifically designed to travel to the asteroid Bennu, which is composed mostly of carbon and records the early history of the solar system. “That is why they are like time capsules, in which we can understand the primary processes of this planetary system.” » adds Peña.

The asteroid Bennu, from which the Osiris-REx probe extracted samples to send to Earth. Image: NASA/AP

This is the first time NASA plans to bring back samples from asteroids. I had already done it before Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), with the Hayabusa and Hayabusa 2 missions. “The idea is to be able to use all the machines and laboratories available on Earth to be able to analyze the samples obtained as much as possible and have answers about the composition of this type. of asteroids and compare them with lunar samples, other asteroids and comets like Wild 2″, adds the astronomer Chilean Astronomy Foundation And host of the podcast “Parlons d’Astronomy” », Juan Carlos Beamín.

For his part, the astronomer from the University of Chile And Doctor in astrophysics from Harvard University, César Fuentes says the main significance of the Osiris-Rex mission is that for the first time it will bring back some of the material found on the surface of an asteroid, “and not just any one, because it corresponds to the one found in the orbits where the vast majority of asteroids that fall to Earth are found, and thus be able to study its history and give context to the place where it was extracted within the asteroid itself.

Osiris-REx will bring unprecedented asteroid samples with possible key to the origin of life

Apart, the fact of being able to observe this material in the same asteroid will allow us to know before these asteroids fall to Earth as meteorites . “In the same way, being able to bring these samples will serve to analyze them in detail, both for their composition and for the minerals that could have contributed to them,” explains Fuentes. According to him, this could even be used to analyze the presence of organic materials or compounds, these are those which are necessary or which are precursors of that which is supposed to have given rise to life.

Image: NASA/AP

“Scientific research is still being conducted with the goal of demonstrating that these precursors to life exist in many places outside of planet Earth, and we know that they are found in the interstellar medium. Some space rocks are also known to contain them. AND Finding it on Bennu further supports the theory that not only are these elements here on Earth, but they are in other parts of the universe, in other parts of the solar system,” adds Peña on this subject.

The astronomer also points out that even if this is not a way to find life, exactly, but it is a way of understanding the space which surrounds us and which Earth is not unique in the formation of these types of molecules.

The spacecraft will return to Earth to deliver the sample on September 24. When he arrives, The ship will release the capsule containing pieces of Bennu into the Earth’s atmosphere. The capsule will be parachuted to the Utah Department of Defense Test and Training Range, dwhere the Osiris-REx team will be waiting to collect it.

This mission will help scientists study how planets formed and life addition to improving our understanding of asteroids that could impact Earth.

This adjustment was a critical maneuver of September 10 who put the spaceship on the right track to release its sample capsule, with rocks and dust from the asteroid Bennu, 102,000 kilometers above the Earth’s surface this weekend. The spacecraft is currently on the verge 2.8 million kilometers away, traveling at 23,000 km/h towards Earth.

Image: NASA/AP

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, provides overall mission management , systems engineering and security and mission assurance for Osiris-REx. Dante Lauretta is the principal investigator of the mission in the University of Arizona . Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver he built the spaceship.

Osiris-REx is the third mission of the New Frontiers Program from NASA. NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages this division for Directorate of Scientific Missions of the Agency in Washington.

Osiris-REx sample return capsule training model. Credits: NASA/Keegan Barber

Source: Latercera

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