NASA's very own spacecraft OSIRIS-REx is set to make contact with the asteroid 'Bennu' this coming August. The craft is to size material samples of the cosmic rock's surface to be studied back on Earth. The feat will be a first for the organization and is considered to be a significant hurdle. With several complications ranging from the cosmic body's microgravity and the impact of the sampling nearby, causing substantial damage to the spacecraft.
One way that is preparing for its endeavor is by performing a practice session of the maneuver set to happen within the week and is called "Checkpoint" rehearsal. This event will bring the spacecraft and the asteroid the closest the have ever been, at a measly 243 feet away.
How will it be done?
The endeavor will have three steps to undertake; Orbit Departure, Checkpoint Maneuver, and lastly, the Matchpoint Maneuver, which leads to the touchdown. The initial test within the week is set to focus on the first two steps. The space organization stated it is making sure its team has the proper preparations to ensure the spacecraft's Natural Feature Tracking system, and other systems are working correctly.
The duration of the rehearsal is expected to last approximately four hours, which includes the extension of OSIRIS-REx's robotic arm dubbed the 'Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism.' Rotation to the position will also be practiced in the session as it is crucial to the sampling project.
Scientists have already found an excellent landing site for OSIRIS'REx. They found it extremely challenging to locate this point due to the ruggedness of the asteroid's surface. The experts utilized the help of the general public to finally pinpoint a gravel-strewn pit near the north pole of the cosmic rock, also known as 'Nightingale.'
The solar clusters of the spacecraft will proceed to a Y-wing configuration where the craft itself will reduce its altitude to 410 feet. At the end of a successful rehearsal, OSIRIS'REx will be returned to its original position near Bennu.
The second checkpoint rehearsal is scheduled for June of this year and will fixate on the Matchpoint burn and set the altitude of the spacecraft to 82 feet. This will set the stage for the actual mission expected to happen on August 25, 2020.
The massive space rock
The asteroid 101955 Bennu is found in the Apollo group discovered by the LINEAR Project on September 11, 2009. Its name was based on the Egyptian mythological bird. It is considered by NASA as potentially hazardous and is found on the Sentry Risk Table garnering the second-highest cumulative rating on the Palermo Technical Impact Hazard Scale.
The giant space rock posts such a risk that there is an increasing 1-in-2,700 possibility of impact with Earth between the years 2175 and 2199.
Bennu has an average diameter of 490 meters, and it has been closely monitored using the Arecibo Observatory planetary radar and the Goldstone Deep Space Network. During March of this year, team members of NASA's OSIRIS'REx were able to put out their wanted names of Bannu's features. These official names are to be set once approved by the International Astronomical Union.