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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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US shutdown delays space missions but NASA not grounded: Report,

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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Spacecraft Test Runs into Serious Problems, Smoke All Over SpaceX in Florida

"Ensuring that our systems meet rigorous safety standards and detecting (issues) like this prior to flight are the main reasons why we test"

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Federal oversight authorities warned NASA last year that more delays could leave US astronauts stranded if the new capsules were not ready to fly in 2019. Pixabay

Thick plumes of smoke rose over a SpaceX facility in Florida during a test fire of a Crew Dragon spacecraft and the issue was serious, it could derail plans to fly astronauts aboard the capsule later this year, the media reported.

SpaceX, which was founded by billionaire businessman Elon Musk in 2002, said the craft was undergoing a “series of engine tests” at a facility in Cape Canaveral on Saturday, and something went wrong during the final stretch, CNN reported.

SpaceX will work with NASA to determine what caused the issue. No injuries were reported.

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The US has not had the technology to fly humans to orbit since the space shuttle programme ended in 2011. Meanwhile, NASA has paid Russia about $80 million per seat to send astronauts to the International Space Station aboard Soyuz capsules. Pixabay

“Ensuring that our systems meet rigorous safety standards and detecting (issues) like this prior to flight are the main reasons why we test,” SpaceX said in a statement.

Crew Dragon is already overdue and more delays could make things tricky for NASA.

It was scheduled to conduct a key test of its emergency abort system in June. And its first crewed mission, which will carry astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, was slated for July, though NASA recently said that timeline was under review.

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Federal oversight authorities warned NASA last year that more delays could leave US astronauts stranded if the new capsules were not ready to fly in 2019. Pixabay

The US has not had the technology to fly humans to orbit since the space shuttle programme ended in 2011. Meanwhile, NASA has paid Russia about $80 million per seat to send astronauts to the International Space Station aboard Soyuz capsules.

NASA has also decided to ask the private sector to design and build a new generation of spacecrafts.

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SpaceX and Boeing, which is building a vehicle called Starliner, were awarded contracts worth up to $2.6 billion and $4.2 billion, respectively, in 2014. Both capsules were supposed to start flying in 2017, but they have been hampered with delays.

Federal oversight authorities warned NASA last year that more delays could leave US astronauts stranded if the new capsules were not ready to fly in 2019. (IANS)