Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Nasa probe Osiris-Rex ‘boops’ asteroid Bennu in historic feat



Nasa probe Osiris-Rex ‘boops’ asteroid Bennu in historic feat

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
After a four-year journey, Nasa’s robotic spacecraft Osiris-Rex briefly touched down on asteroid Bennu’s boulder-strewn surface on Tuesday to collect rock and dust samples in a precision operation 330 million kilometres from Earth. NASA/GODDARD/ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY/AFP

Nasa probe Osiris-Rex ‘boops’ asteroid Bennu in historic feat

After a four-year journey, the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (Nasa’s) robotic spacecraft Osiris-Rex briefly touched down on asteroid Bennu’s boulder-strewn surface on Tuesday to collect rock and dust samples in a precision operation 330 million kilometres from Earth.

The so-called “Touch-And-Go” or TAG manoeuvre was managed by Lockheed Martin Space in Denver, Colorado, where at 6:12pm (2212 GMT) an announcer said: “Touchdown declared. Sampling is in progress,” and scientists erupted in celebration.

The historic mission was 12 years in the making and rested on a critical 16 second period where the spacecraft performed a delicate autonomous manoeuvre to grab its precious payload – at least 60g, or a candy-bar sized amount of regolith that scientists hope will help unravel the origins of our solar system.

If Osiris-Rex successfully comes home in September 2023, it will have collected the largest sample returned from space since the Apollo era.

NASA scientist Michelle Thaller said: “We think we actually might be coming back with a baby picture of what the solar system was like, of what our chemistry was like, billions of years ago.

“We’re looking for our own origins out there, and that’s why we’ve gone so far to bring a bit of Bennu back.”

The spacecraft, about the size of a large van, slowed down to a crawl of just 10cm per second on the final phase of its descent into the Nightingale crater on the north pole of the asteroid, which is 490m in diameter.

For size comparison, that is just a bit bigger than the Empire State building in New York City.

Osiris-Rex eased its robotic arm down to a target zone just 8m in diameter, then fired pressurised nitrogen to agitate the surface material and catch its sample.

Then the spacecraft fired its thrusters to back away from Bennu’s surface to complete what scientists playfully described as a “boop”.

Mission control and the public learned of all this about 18.5 minutes later than it actually happened because of the time it takes for the signals to return from the space rock, which for the most part orbits between Venus and Mars.

The first images will only be available on Wednesday once the probe is further away and has a higher data transmission rate.

We will have to wait until Saturday to find out if Osiris-Rex has succeeded in collecting the desired amount of dust.

Scientists want at least 60g but the spacecraft is capable of picking up as much as 2kg.

If it turns out the spacecraft didn’t collect enough, it will have another go on January 12, next year, at a backup site which is another relatively boulder-free area near the rock’s equator.

MOST VIEWED

  • South Korea’s first lady brings hope to ill boy

    South Korea’s first lady Kim Keon-hee – wife of current president of the Republic of Korea, Yoon Suk Yeol – met with a 14-year-boy with congenital heart disease during her trip to the Kingdom for the ASEAN Summit. After their meeting it was announced that the

  • Hun Sen gets Covid, shuns G20, APEC summits

    Prime Minister Hun Sen said he has tested positive for Covid-19 in Indonesia, where he is slated to attend the G20 summit in his capacity of the ASEAN chair. In a social media post addressing the Cambodian public, he said: “Before leaving Cambodia, I always

  • Moody’s sets outlook rating to ‘negative’ for Cambodia

    US global rating agency Moody’s Investors Service Inc on November 15 announced that it downgraded Cambodia’s outlook from “stable” to “negative” and maintained its B2 local and foreign currency issuer ratings. “The negative outlook reflects a deteriorating external position as illustrated by the severe

  • Hong Kong firm done buying Coke Cambodia

    Swire Coca-Cola Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hong Kong-listed Swire Pacific Ltd, on November 25 announced that it had completed the acquisition of The Coca-Cola Co’s bottling business in Cambodia, as part of its ambitions to expand into the Southeast Asian market. Swire Coca-Cola affirmed

  • Korean first lady paves way for ill boy’s surgery

    A 14-year-old boy with congenital heart disease who was lucky enough to meet with South Korean first lady Kim Keon-hee may get the chance of a lifetime and receive surgery and treatment at Asan Medical Center in Seoul, South Korea. After seeing his plight, many

  • Hun Sen’s Covid infection caused by ‘weakened antibody’ after summit

    Prime Minister Hun Sen said exhaustion from heavy workload before and during the recent ASEAN Summit may have led to him contracting Covid-19 due to his weakened immune system, while rejecting speculations that the infection was caused by leaders of some countries who did not