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NASA Spacecraft’s First Orbit Around Asteroid Bennu Breaks Record

The OSIRIS-REx mission is scheduled to deliver the sample to Earth in September 2023

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Nasa's Opportunity rover might have 'died' on Mars. Flickr

Breaking a space exploration record on New Year’s Eve, NASA first asteroid-sampling mission, OSIRIS-REx, entered into orbit around the Bennu, making it the smallest object ever to be orbited by a spacecraft.

Inching around the asteroid at a snail’s pace, OSIRIS-REx’s first orbit marks a leap for humankind.

Never before has a spacecraft from Earth circled so close to such a small space object – one with barely enough gravity to keep a vehicle in a stable orbit.

The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) arrived at asteroid Bennu on December 3.

The spacecraft, 110 million kilometres away, carried out a single, eight-second burn of its thrusters on Monday.

“The team continued our long string of successes by executing the orbit-insertion maneouvre perfectly,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx Principal Investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson, US.

“With the navigation campaign coming to an end, we are looking forward to the scientific mapping and sample site selection phase of the mission,” Lauretta added.

“Entering orbit around Bennu is an amazing accomplishment that our team has been planning for years,” Lauretta said.

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Inching around the asteroid at a snail’s pace, OSIRIS-REx’s first orbit marks a leap for humankind. Flcikr

Now, the spacecraft will circle Bennu about a 1.75 kilometres from its centre, closer than any other spacecraft has come to its celestial object of study.

Previously the closest orbit of a planetary body was in May 2016, when the Rosetta spacecraft orbited about seven kilometres from the centre of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

The spacecraft is scheduled to orbit Bennu through mid-February at a leisurely 62 hours per orbit.

The December 31 manoeuvre to place the spacecraft into orbit about Bennu is the first of many exciting navigation activities planned for the mission.

The OSIRIS-REx team will resume science operations in late February.

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At that point, the spacecraft will perform a series of close flybys of Bennu for several months to take high-resolution images of every square inch of the asteroid to help select a sampling site.

During the summer of 2020, the spacecraft will briefly touch the surface of Bennu to retrieve a sample.

The OSIRIS-REx mission is scheduled to deliver the sample to Earth in September 2023. (IANS)

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NASA: Sending Back Astronauts to Moon in 2024 Could Cost About $30 Billion

The entire project will be framed as a practice run for a future mission to Mars

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NASA, mars
NASA, which has dubbed its current lunar programme Artemis (after Apollo's twin sister, the Greek goddess of the hunt, the wilderness and the moon), plans to send one male and one female astronaut to the moon in 2024. VOA

Returning astronauts to the moon in 2024 could cost about $30 billion, or roughly the same price tag as the Apollo 11 spaceflight when factoring in inflation, NASA has said.

“For the whole programme, to get a sustainable presence on the moon, we’re looking at between $20 and $30 billion,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a TV interview on Friday, though noting that that figure does not include money already spent on the rocket and space capsule the agency plans to use for the programme, Efe news reported.

The total cost of the Apollo programme that the US launched in 1961 and concluded in 1972 was $25 billion. The climax of that programme came nearly 50 years ago when two astronauts landed on the moon as part of the Apollo 11 mission, which cost $6 billion at the time, equivalent to $30 billion today.

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Then one male astronaut and – for the first time – a female astronaut would set foot on the lunar surface in 2024. Pixabay

NASA, which has dubbed its current lunar programme Artemis (after Apollo’s twin sister, the Greek goddess of the hunt, the wilderness and the moon), plans to send one male and one female astronaut to the moon in 2024.

Bridenstine recalled that the main difference between the Apollo programme and the Artemis program is that the former culminated with brief stays on the moon while the latter will entail a permanent human presence there.

The plan will involve the recruitment of private companies and international partners, the construction of a lunar space station and manned landings at the moon’s south pole within five years.

NASA, moon
That rocket will send into orbit a new spacecraft known as Orion, whose lead contractor is Lockheed Martin. VOA

The entire project will be framed as a practice run for a future mission to Mars. The programme includes an unmanned mission around the moon in 2020 and a manned mission that also will orbit the moon two years later. Then one male astronaut and – for the first time – a female astronaut would set foot on the lunar surface in 2024.

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The three lunar missions will be delivered into space by the Space Launch System, a rocket being developed by NASA and Boeing that will be the largest ever built once it is fully assembled. That rocket will send into orbit a new spacecraft known as Orion, whose lead contractor is Lockheed Martin.

Besides these missions exclusively handled by NASA, five other launches will be carried out to place in lunar orbit the components for construction of the Gateway mini-space station, which will serve as a staging post for moon landings. Those five missions between 2022 and 2024 will be operated by private companies, according to NASA’s plans. (IANS)