Around twelve twelve (French time), this Tuesday, everything will be played out in ten seconds. After four years of travel, 300 million kilometers swallowed, twenty-four months of observation and a billion dollars spent, the American probe Osiris-Rex will approach the surface of the asteroid Bennu in an attempt to collect dust samples in order to bring them back to Earth and possibly obtain valuable information on the formation of the Solar System. A high-risk maneuver, whose images will reach us sixteen minutes later, which was only accomplished by Japan and the Hayabusa-2 probe so far on the surface of the asteroid Ryugu in February 2019.
The target was not chosen by chance. Almost long 500 meters in diameter, the asteroid Bennu was to allow Osiris to perform its sampling without much danger : scientists imagined it covered with long sandbanks worthy of terrestrial beaches. But its surface turned out to be much more chaotic than expected. End 2018, the images captured by Osiris on his arrival near the pebble showed that he was actually traversed by blocks of rock. Scientists combed Bennu's surface to mark out an eight-meter area on which Osiris will attempt to land, Nightingale crater.
A little after 23 hours, mardi, the probe will approach Bennu smoothly. It will then deploy a robotic arm just over three meters long. The latter will target the demarcated area, as wide as four parking spaces, to achieve a “touch and go”. Contact should last between five and ten seconds. Just before reaching the ground, the robot will blow nitrogen to fly dust which will be collected by Osiris's arm. Goal : collect at least 60 grams of Bennu samples.
Osiris will be entitled to three attempts to complete his mission. NASA estimates 30% the risk that the arm does not collect enough grain. It is indeed very possible that the maneuver is disturbed by rocks located where they were not expected.. Engineers cannot guarantee absolute accuracy beyond 300 million kilometers away. In case of failure, a second attempt will take place in January in another crater.
Osiris-Rex is due to begin its return to Earth in March 2021. His return home is not expected until September 2023. She will end her long journey by releasing with a parachute the container that contains the samples taken for a soft landing over the Utah desert., in the USA. Until then, the samples taken by the Hayabusa-2 probe will have started to reveal their secrets. His return to Earth is expected for the 6 next december.
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Asteroid, OSIRIS-REx, NASA, 101955 Determining, Space probe
World news – FR – The Osiris-Rex spacecraft will hit the asteroid Bennu tonight at 23 hours