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NASA sends spacecraft to meet asteroid on collision-course with Earth

NASA sends spacecraft to meet asteroid on collision-course with Earth

NASA’s spacecraft OSIRIS-REx has finally reached the asteroid 101955 Bennu – which may be on collision course with the Earth – after traveling for just over two years since its launch in September 2016.

This mission, which will bring grains back for us to study on Earth, is latest to return asteroid samples to Earth after the Japanese Space Agency’s missions Hayabusa 1 and 2 and StarDust.

The data will help unveil more about the origins of the solar system and how to protect the Earth from possible asteroid impact.

The spacecraft will spend the next year completing a detailed survey of the surface of Bennu (492 meters in diameter) – including locating the most suitable landing sites.

Once a site is selected, the spacecraft will land for about five seconds to collect a sample of the surface material using a burst of nitrogen gas to liberate material from the surface into the sampler head.

The spacecraft has enough gas to attempt three sample collections from the surface. This will hopefully provide a sample of between 60g and 2,000g of surface regolith material (the layer of material covering solid rock). It will start heading back to Earth in 2021 – getting here in 2023.