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First NASA Probe to Return Asteroid Sample Reaches Destination

The arrival came after Japan's asteroid explorer Hayabusa2, launched in 2014, released two small robotic rovers on the asteroid Ryugu in September

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The first spacecraft that NASA sent to collect sample from an asteroid has now arrived at its destination, asteroid Bennu.

The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft met Bennu on Monday after travelling through space for more than two years and over two billion kilometres, NASA said.

The spacecraft executed a maneouvre that transitioned it from flying toward Bennu to operating around the asteroid.

It will spend almost a year surveying the asteroid with five scientific instruments with the goal of selecting a location that is safe and scientifically interesting to collect the sample and return it to Earth in September 2023.

“As explorers, we at NASA have never shied away from the most extreme challenges in the solar system in our quest for knowledge,” said Lori Glaze, Acting Director for NASA’s Planetary Science Division.

“Now we’re at it again, working with our partners in the US and Canada to accomplish the Herculean task of bringing back to Earth a piece of the early solar system,” Glaze said.

Asteroids are remnants of the building blocks that formed the planets and enabled life. Those like Bennu contain natural resources, such as water, organics and metals. Future space exploration and economic development may rely on asteroids for these materials.

Now, at about 19 kilometres from Bennu’s Sun-facing surface, OSIRIS-REx will first begin a preliminary survey of the asteroid, NASA said.

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The spacecraft executed a maneouvre that transitioned it from flying toward Bennu to operating around the asteroid. Flickr

The spacecraft will commence flyovers of Bennu’s north pole, equatorial region, and south pole, getting as close as nearly seven kilometres above Bennu during each flyover.

OSIRIS-REx’s mission will help scientists investigate how planets formed and how life began, as well as improve our understanding of asteroids that could impact Earth.

The mission’s navigation team will use the preliminary survey of Bennu to practice the delicate task of navigating around the asteroid.

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The spacecraft will enter orbit around Bennu on December 31 – thus making Bennu, which is only about 492 metres across — or about the length of five football fields — the smallest object ever orbited by a spacecraft.

It is a critical step in OSIRIS-REx’s years-long quest to collect and eventually deliver at least 60 gram of regolith — dirt and rocks — from Bennu to Earth.

Bennu is now about 122 million kilometers from Earth. This near-Earth asteroid was chosen for study as it orbits around the Sun every 1.2 years and comes very close to Earth every six years, thereby throwing a probability of colliding with Earth in the late 22nd century.

The arrival came after Japan’s asteroid explorer Hayabusa2, launched in 2014, released two small robotic rovers on the asteroid Ryugu in September. (IANS)

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Rocket Lab is Set To Launch 10 NASA CubeSats

They will be placed in RailPODs aboard the Electron rocket that will ferry them to space

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Rocket Lab to launch 10 NASA CubeSats on Sunday. Pixabay

In its first mission for NASA, the American aerospace manufacturer Rocket Lab is set to launch 10 small research satellites, or CubeSats, from New Zealand, the US space agency said.

Owing to bad weather, Rocket Lab was forced to postpone the earlier decided launch on December 12.

Rocket Lab is now targeting the ELaNa-19 launch on December 15 with a launch window opening at 11 p.m. EST from the company’s launch complex on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand, NASA said in a statement on Friday.

The CubeSats were built by three NASA centres, seven universities, and a middle school under the NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites, or (ELaNa-19) mission.

ElaNa-19 is NASA’s first to be completely dedicated to launching CubeSats under the agency’s Venture Class Launch Services program for small-satellite launches.

More than 250 students have been involved in the design, development and construction of the CubeSats scheduled to be flown as payloads on Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket.

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Owing to bad weather, Rocket Lab was forced to postpone the earlier decided launch on December 12. Flickr

“The major difference between today’s launch and previous #ELaNa missions is that for the first time, NASA will have a launch completely dedicated to CubeSats rather than having the small satellites ride along with a much larger spacecraft that is the primary mission,” NASA Launch Services Program officials wrote on Twitter on December 12.

The 10 CubeSats are named as CubeSail, CeREs, NMTSat, CHOMPTT, ALBus, STF-1, ISX, RSat, Shields-1 and DaVinci, NASA said.

These are built to standard dimensions of one unit (1U), and can be 1U, 2U, 3U or 6U in size. They generally weigh less than 1.33 kg per U — 6U may be up to 12 kg.

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They will be placed in RailPODs aboard the Electron rocket that will ferry them to space.

After the main payload deploys, the CubeSats will separate from their RailPODs. After 45 minutes in orbit, the CubeSat transmitters will turn on and university ground stations will listen for their beacons, determine their small satellites’ functionality and announce operational status.

CubeSat mission durations and orbital life vary but are anticipated to last at least three years. Upon mission completion, the CubeSats fall to Earth, burning up in the atmosphere, NASA noted. (IANS)