The Osiris-Rex spacecraft has reached the surface of the asteroid Bennu. The mission aims to suck up space debris from the asteroid. According to space agency NASA, everything went according to plan. “Touchdown confirmed”, it sounded around midnight Dutch time.
Whether the probe actually succeeded in sucking up space debris from Bennu, who is about 333 million kilometers from Earth, will probably become clear within a week. If it doesn’t work out, the NASA team will have to send the probe to Bennu’s surface again in January. The probe is intended to deliver the space debris to Earth in 2023, so that scientists can get to work with it.
Osiris-Rex was launched by NASA to the asteroid four years ago and arrived two years ago. Since then, the probe has been floating around Bennu a few hundred meters away. During that period, the surface of the rock was mapped. Bennu is not much bigger than the Empire State Building. The entire operation took more than four hours and was carried out fully automatically.
Formation of the Earth
Scientists are very interested in the composition of rocks like Bennu. The asteroid originated in the first ten million years of our solar system, more than 4.5 billion ago. It is therefore expected that the asteroid can tell us a lot about that time. The Earth was formed from boulders similar to Bennu, which have clumped together over time.
The mission’s goal is to suck up at least 60 grams of space debris from Bennu, but scientists hope the probe managed to suck up several kilograms.
The US is not the first country to bring a monster of an asteroid to Earth. Japan already managed to do this with the Hayabusa probe, but that involved a much smaller amount of material.
Earlier, the mission manager explained how the space probe works: