NASA launches a idea to pierce partial of an asteroid behind to Earth. Elyse Samuels, USA TODAY.
An SUV-sized booster is about to launch on an brazen mission: to lane down a big, bad space rock, give it a lick and secretly purloin some of a bulk.
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx robotic qualification is scheduled to blast off Sept. 8 on a seven-year, round-trip tour to a asteroid, that poses a slim possibility of slamming into Earth about 150 years from now. Assuming a boat creates it behind in 2023 as planned, it will lift as most as 4 ½ pounds of dirt and sand from a rock’s surface.
“We are bringing behind systematic treasure,” a University of Arizona’s Dante Lauretta, a principal questioner of a mission, told reporters Wednesday. “The day in 2023 when we open adult that sample-return plug is what’s driven me for a past 12 years and what’s going to keep (us) going for a subsequent seven.”
If all goes well, a boon from OSIRIS-REx will be enormous. Data collected by a qualification will assistance explain a suit of space rocks, also famous as asteroids, as they decrease by a solar system — knowledge that could assistance scientists pinpoint that ones poise a hazard to Earth.
More grandly, a $800 million idea could assistance researchers know a origins of Earthly life. The target, a space stone named Bennu, is suspicion to be a well-preserved hunk of a things that finished adult a planets when they shaped billions of years ago. Scientists consider Bennu is abounding in organic molecules — essential to vital organisms — and water. Analysis of a object’s fragments could assistance exhibit either asteroids seeded Earth with a mixture for all life.
Bennu is also a good aim formed particularly on self-preservation. The stone is as high as a Empire State Building, and there’s a 1-in-2,700 possibility it will strike Earth toward a finish of a subsequent century. If it did, it could emanate a void scarcely 3 miles far-reaching and a quarter-mile deep, by Lauretta’s calculations. Reconnaissance now could infer intensely useful if a asteroid aims true for a planet, where it could means inauspicious drop during a site of impact, though not a finish of life as we know it.
OSIRIS-REx will yield comprehension that any spymaster would envy. It will spend scarcely a year tighten to Bennu, staring during it with a battery of instruments. Then, in 2020, it will pitch tighten to a asteroid, creation a final proceed during a gait usually as quick as an termite crawls. It will make strike with Bennu’s aspect for only a few seconds, a ethereal pierce Lauretta describes as a “kiss.”
To chase element from Bennu, a booster will blow nitrogen gas onto a asteroid’s powdery face. The dirt and stone bloody off a aspect will be sucked adult by a booster and afterwards ferried behind to Earth. The small bit of Bennu is scheduled to parachute into a Utah dried in 2023.
Retrieving element from another intent in a solar complement is an desirous and unsure goal. Just ask a Japanese: a qualification from that republic sent to collect pieces of asteroid was cheerless by technical failures and returned reduction than a milligram of space stone to Earth. The United States suffered a possess disturbance in 2004, when a NASA booster bringing a representation of solar particles behind home incidentally crushed into a ground.
In an interview, Lauretta pronounced his group has complicated those failures and many others and has finished “everything possible” to equivocate disaster. It will help, he said, that by a time OSIRIS-REx swoops in to buss Bennu, engineers will have endless knowledge maneuvering a qualification tighten to a space rock.
All a same, “we’re drifting a booster to a aspect of an asteroid,” Lauretta said. “And that’s a small bit of a risk, there’s no approach to contend that it isn’t. … We are going out into an different world.”