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NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex Mission

NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex Mission

Why In News?

  • Recently, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft departed from asteroid Bennu, and started its two-year long journey back to Earth.
  • OSIRIS-REx is NASA’s first mission to visit a near-Earth asteroid
  • The mission was launched by NASA in September 2016, with an aim to collect and carry at least 60 g (2.1 oz) asteroid samples back to Earth for detailed scientific research.

What is the OSIRIS-REx mission?

  • OSIRIS-Rex stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer.
  • The mission is essentially a seven-year-long voyage and will conclude when at least 60 grams of samples are delivered back to the Earth.
  • As per NASA, the mission promises to bring the largest amount of extraterrestrial material back to our planet since the Apollo era.
  • The important instruments included in the spacecraft:
    • Camera Suite
    • Laser Altimeter
    • Visible, IR and Thermal Emission Spectrometer
    • Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism
    • Regolith X-ray Imaging Spectrometer

Significance of Asteroid Bennu

  • Asteroid Bennu is named after an Egyptian deity. It is as tall as the Empire State Building. It is located about 200 million miles away from the Earth.
  • A team from the NASA-funded Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research team in 1999 discovered the asteroid.
  • Bennu may contain the molecular precursors to the origin of life and the Earth’s oceans. Bennu is also one of the most potentially hazardous asteroids, as it has a relatively high probability of impacting the Earth late in the 22nd century.                    NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex Mission
  • OSIRIS-REx will determine Bennu’s physical and chemical properties, which will be critical to know in the event of an impact mitigation mission.
  • Finally, asteroids like Bennu contain natural resources such as water, organics, and precious metals.
  • In the future, these asteroids may one day fuel the exploration of the solar system by robotic and manned spacecraft.

What are Asteroids?

  • Asteroids are rocky objects that orbit the Sun. They are much smaller than planets, so they are also called minor planets. According to NASA, there are around 994,383 known asteroids.
  • Scientists study asteroids to:
    • Asteroids were formed at the same time as other objects in the solar system. So, the scientists will look for information about the formation and history of planets and the sun
    • Another reason for tracking them is to look for potentially hazardous asteroids.
  • Asteroids are divided into three classes:
    • First, those found in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, which is estimated to contain somewhere between 1.1-1.9 million asteroids.
    • The second group is that of trojans, which are asteroids that share an orbit with a larger planet.
    • The third classification is Near-Earth Asteroids (NEA), which have orbits that pass close by the Earth. Those that cross the Earth’s orbit are called Earth-crossers.



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