Tag: OSIRIS-REx

NASA Spacecraft Finds Water In Search For Origins Of Life On Asteroid

A NASA spacecraft that just arrived last December 2018 on an asteroid has already made its first big discovery: ingredients for water.

Scientists hope that the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will shed light on the mysteries of Bennu, an asteroid the size of a skyscraper that could hold clues to the origins of life on Earth.

The craft only arrived at the asteroid in recent days but the discovery of water is a major breakthrough that scientists hope can be matched by more discoveries in the future.

It was found when OSIRIS-REx flew close to the asteroid and picked up traces of hydrogen and oxygen molecules in its rocky surface. Those make up part of the recipe for water – itself a key ingredient in life itself.




The probe, on a mission to return samples from the asteroid to Earth for study, was launched in 2016. Bennu, roughly a third of a mile wide (500 meters), orbits the sun at roughly the same distance as Earth.

There is concern among scientists about the possibility of Bennu impacting Earth late in the 22nd century.

We have found the water-rich minerals from the early solar system, which is exactly the kind of sample we were going out there to find and ultimately bring back to Earth,” University of Arizona planetary scientist Dante Lauretta, the OSIRIS-REx mission’s principal investigator, said in a telephone interview.

Asteroids are among the leftover debris from the solar system’s formation some 4.5 billion years ago.

Scientists believe asteroids and comets crashing into early Earth may have delivered organic compounds and water that seeded the planet for life, and atomic-level analysis of samples from Bennu could provide key evidence to support that hypothesis.

OSIRIS-REx will pass later this month just 1.2 miles (1.9 km) from Bennu, entering the asteroid’s gravitational pull and analyzing its terrain.

From there, the spacecraft will begin to gradually tighten its orbit around the asteroid, spiraling to within just 6 feet (2 meters) of its surface so its robot arm can snatch a sample of Bennu by July 2020.

The spacecraft will later fly back to Earth, jettisoning a capsule bearing the asteroid specimen for a parachute descent in the Utah desert in September 2023.

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: New Scientist

All Four Last Tuesday Rocket Launches Postponed

If you’re a space fan, Christmas comes a week early this year. There are four — count ’em, four! — launches scheduled to take place last Tuesday (Dec. 18), and you can watch them all live.

The action begins in the morning with a one-two punch. At 9:34 a.m. EST (1434 GMT), SpaceX plans to launch a next-generation GPS satellite for the U.S. Air Force from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Nineteen minutes later, at 9:30 a.m. EST (1430 GMT), Blue Origin’s suborbital New Shepard capsule will take to the skies from West Texas on the 10th uncrewed test flight of the reusable vehicle.

You can watch both missions live here at Space.com, or directly via SpaceX and Blue Origin.

Then, at 11:37 a.m. EST (1637 GMT), an Arianespace Soyuz rocket will loft a spy satellite for the French military called CSO-1. You can watch that liftoff, which will take place from Kourou, French Guiana, at Arianespace’s website.

Another spysat launch will wrap things up tonight. A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying the classified NROL-71 spacecraft for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office is scheduled to lift off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 8:57 p.m. EST (5:57 p.m. local California time; 0157 GMT on Dec. 19).




You can watch that one live on Space.com as well, or directly via ULA (though it appears the weather may not cooperate for an on-time liftoff).

There will be another flurry of spaceflight activity around the new year. NASA’s asteroid-sampling OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, which has been flying along with the space rock Bennu since Dec. 3, will slip into orbit around that object on Dec. 31.

Just hours later, NASA’s New Horizons probe will zoom past the small, distant object Ultima Thule, which lies about 1 billion miles (1.6 billion kilometers) beyond Pluto.

That dwarf planet was New Horizons’ first flyby target, you probably recall; the spacecraft cruised past Pluto in July 2015, returning stunning images of water-ice mountains, vast plains of nitrogen ice and other dramatic landscapes.

And sometime in the first few days of January, China’s Chang’e 4 mission will drop onto the far side of the moon, if all goes according to plan.

Chang’e 4, which launched on Dec. 7, consists of a lander and rover, which will touch down within the huge South Pole-Aitken Basin. No probe has ever touched down on the lunar far side, which always faces away from Earth.

Update for Dec. 19: After all four launches scheduled for Tuesday were delayed, SpaceX and Blue Origin have again postponed their launches. Arianespace and United Launch Alliance are on track for a Dec. 19 launch, while the Indian Space Research Organisation successfully launched its GSAT-7A communications satellite into orbit.

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: Popular Science

A NASA Spacecraft Is About To Slingshot Around Earth To Meet Up With An Asteroid

On Friday, a spacecraft the size of an SUV will slingshot around Earth’s South Pole, altering its trajectory through space.

The probe is NASA’s OSIRIS-REx, and its upcoming maneuver around our planet is known as a gravity assist — a way to harness Earth’s gravity to alter its orbit.

The move is critical, since it will put OSIRIS-REx on course to meet up with an asteroid in the fall of 2018.

OSIRIS-REx launched last year with a relatively straightforward purpose: grab a sample of rocks from an asteroid and bring them back to Earth.

If all goes well, the vehicle should retrieve the largest sample ever collected from an asteroid, and give scientists the chance to study the space rock components in more detail than ever before.

But first, the probe has to reach its target — a nearby asteroid named Bennu.




NASA picked Bennu partly because the asteroid’s orbit is similar to Earth’s orbit, and that makes it an easier target to reach.

But their paths aren’t the exact same: Bennu’s orbit is tilted by about six degrees compared to Earth’s. In the past year, OSIRIS-REx has been orbiting in the same plane as Earth, traveling slightly ahead of our planet.

And now it’s time for OSIRIS-REx to match Bennu’s orbit in space.

There are two main options to change a spacecraft’s trajectory: one is to use the vehicle’s onboard engines to propel the spacecraft in a certain direction.

The problem with this option is that it uses up the spacecraft’s finite amount of fuel. And OSIRIS-REx would have needed a lot of fuel to alter its course to reach Bennu in time — more than the vehicle is carrying.

So instead, the probe’s navigators opted to use the second option — a gravity assist. “This was the only option to reach Bennu, launching in 2016,” Michael Moreau, a flight engineer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center said.

This maneuver has been used on many previous space missions, to increase or decrease a spacecraft’s speed and course. It’s essentially an exchange of energy, similar to when a roller coaster speeds up while going down a hill.

When OSIRIS-REx swings by Earth, it will steal a little bit of our planet’s momentum in order to change its orbit. Earth is so massive that the maneuver won’t really affect our planet.

But OSIRIS-REx will change its speed and course by more than 8,400 miles per hour. That’s nearly twice the amount the spacecraft would get if it used up all its fuel.

OSIRIS-REx will approach the Earth at a speed of 19,000 miles per hour, flying over Australia first. It will then make its closest approach to Earth at 12:52PM ET, coming within 11,000 miles of Antarctica.

Around that time, the vehicle will lose contact with NASA since it will be out of range with the space agency’s closest tracking stations.

The blackout should last just 50 minutes, though, and NASA expects to regain communications around 1:40PM ET.

The vehicle is also supposed to come into areas dominated by satellites, but NASA says it has taken steps to make sure no collisions happen during the assist.

After Friday’s maneuver, OSIRIS-REx will cruise through space for another year, reaching Bennu in October.

At that point, the vehicle is supposed to fly around the asteroid for two years, surveying the rock’s surface, before actually grabbing the coveted sample and returning to Earth.

The gravity assist is the first step to getting there, and it’ll allow the mission team to meet up with Bennu exactly when they needed to, while saving on fuel.

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: Popular Science