The US space agency NASA has achieved a new milestone. The agency’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft briefly touched down on asteroid Bennu. According to NASA, the spacecraft successfully collected rubble from the surface of Bennu. OSIRIS-REx is a van-sized spacecraft. The agency said that it unfurled its 3.4-meter arm to collect rocks sample. Bennu is hundreds of millions of miles away from Earth. It was discovered in 1999. Bennu is classified as a carbonaceous asteroid and a hazardous object. It is an Apollo group asteroid. The spacecraft touched down on Bennu’s surface after four of the journey.
According to NASA, the spacecraft will begin its journey back to Earth in March 2021. The cargo is likely to reach Earth in 2023. The spacecraft orbited around Bennu for two years before the agency took a decision to land it on the surface of the asteroid. It touched down in a crater on Bennu’s northern hemisphere. NASA said that OSIRIS-REx has been designed to perform maneuvers autonomously. It added that telemetry data showed that the event was executed as expected. It didn’t confirm the amount of sample OSIRIS-Rex collected. The OSIRIS-Rex team said that it will share more details about the sample a week later.
OSIRIS-REx was launched by NASA in 2016. It is an asteroid-study and sample-return mission. With the latest achievement, NASA becomes the second space agency to collect asteroid samples. The feat was earlier accomplished only by Japan. JAXA’s Hayabusa2 in July 2019 collected samples from asteroid Ryugu. Hayabusa2 is likely to land on Earth in December this year. NASA believes that studying the Bennu’s sample will help scientists learn more about the formation and evolution of the solar system. If OSIRIS-REx successfully returns to Earth carrying the Bennu sample, it will become the first NASA spacecraft to return samples from an asteroid. The agency had previously brought back comet dust and solar wind particles. But it never tried to collect and return a sample from an asteroid.