When the NASA spacecraft first arrived at asteroid Bennu over a year ago, the surface of the asteroid was much different than expected. Instead of a surface with large, smooth areas, nearly the entire surface is covered in boulders. That meant that NASA had to do a re-think of the sampling procedure.
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx arrived at asteroid Bennu in December 2018. During the past year, it’s been imaging the surface of the asteroid extensively, looking for a spot to take a sample from. Though the spacecraft has multiple science objectives, and a suite of instruments to meet them, the sample return is the key objective.
Now, NASA has narrowed the choice down to four potential sampling locations on the surface of the asteroid.
This past Monday (Sept. 16th), Hayabusa2 released two target markers as part of its “target marker separation operation” (which ran from Sept. 12th to Sept. 17th). This consisted of two 10 cm (4 in) balls covered in reflective material being released in orbit around Ryugu. This operation puts the mission a step closer to the deployment of the mission’s MINERVA-II2 Rover-2, which will be landing on the asteroid’s surface next month.
A new video shows Japan’s Hayabusa 2 sample return spacecraft collecting samples from asteroid Ryugu. The spacecraft has been at Ryugu for months now, and it’s all been leading up to this. In the video, you can clearly see airborne asteroid dust and particles swirling around in the low gravity.
Japan’s Hayabusa 2 spacecraft is now the first spacecraft to retrieve a subsurface sample from an asteroid. On July 11th, the spacecraft touched down for a second time on asteroid 162173 Ryugu. This time, the probe retrieved a sample from a crater it excavated with its impactor.
On June 27th, 2018, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency‘s (JAXA) Hayabusa2 spacecraft rendezvoused with the asteroid 162173 Ryugu. Carrying on in the same tradition as its predecessor, Hayabusa2recently conducted landing operations on the asteroid’s surface as part of the agency’s second sample-return mission from an asteroid.
The landing took place on February 22nd, 2019, after several weeks of careful preparations. One minute after successfully touching down with its “sampling horn” extended, the spacecraft lifted off again. That’s when mission controllers noticed something interesting about the patch of ground where Hayabusa2 had landed.
Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft has completed an important part of its mission to asteroid Ryugu. The spacecraft descended to the surface of the asteroid to collect two samples with its sampling horn. We don’t know for sure if samples were successfully collected, but all indications are that the sampling mission went well.
Japan’s Hayabusa2 mission is about to get down to business. After arriving at asteroid Ryugu at the end of June 2018, and dispatching its tiny rovers to the surface, the spacecraft is about to approach the surface of the asteroid and get some samples.
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer) has found water on the asteroid Bennu. Bennu is OSIRIS-REx’s only target, and though the spacecraft arrived at the asteroid on December 3rd, some of its instruments have been trained on the asteroid since mid-August. And two of those instruments detected water on Bennu.
OSIRIS-REx wasn’t sent to Bennu just to find water. The mission is NASA’s first asteroid sample-return mission. The presence of water on Bennu confirms what the science team hoped would be true when they selected the asteroid as the spacecraft’s destination: Bennu is an excellent target for scientific inquiry into the early Solar System.
“The presence of hydrated minerals across the asteroid confirms that Bennu, a remnant from early in the formation of the solar system, is an excellent specimen for the OSIRIS-REx mission to study the composition of primitive volatiles and organics.” – Amy Simon, OVIRS deputy instrument scientist, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
NASA and the Planetary Society are giving students worldwide the opportunity to name an asteroid. And it’s not just any asteroid; an upcoming NASA mission will return samples of this asteroid to Earth. The Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) will be heading to an asteroid, currently named (101955) 1999 RQ36. The poor asteroid just needs a name that is a little more exciting and user-friendly – something that is easy to remember!
Scheduled to launch in 2016, the mission could hold clues to the origin of the solar system and organic molecules that may have seeded life on Earth. NASA also is planning a crewed mission to an asteroid by 2025. A closer scientific study of asteroids will provide context and help inform this mission.
“Because the samples returned by the mission will be available for study for future generations, it is possible the person who names the asteroid will grow up to study the regolith we return to Earth,” said Jason Dworkin, OSIRIS-REx project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
The competition is open to students under age 18 from anywhere in the world. Each contestant can submit one name, up to 16 characters long. Entries must include a short explanation and rationale for the name. Submissions must be made by an adult on behalf of the student. The contest deadline is Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012.
Simulated asteroid image – topography overlaid on radar imagery of 1999 RQ36. Credit: NASA/GSFC/UA
The contest is also sponsored by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington; and the University of Arizona in Tucson.
A panel will review proposed asteroid names. First prize will be awarded to the student who recommends a name that is approved by the International Astronomical Union Committee for Small-Body Nomenclature.
“Our mission will be focused on this asteroid for more than a decade,” said Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for the mission at the University of Arizona. “We look forward to having a name that is easier to say than (101955) 1999 RQ36.”
The asteroid was discovered in 1999 by the Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) survey at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory. LINEAR is part of NASA’s Near Earth Observation Program, Washington, which detects and catalogs near-Earth asteroids, and comets. The asteroid has an average diameter of approximately 500 meters (1,640 feet).
“We are excited to have discovered the minor planet that will be visited by the OSIRIS-REx mission and to be able to engage students around the world to suggest a name for 1999 RQ36,” said Grant Stokes, head of the Aerospace Division at MIT Lincoln Laboratory and principal investigator for the LINEAR program.
The asteroid received its designation of (101955) 1999 RQ36 from the Minor Planet Center, operated by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass. The center assigns an initial alphanumeric designation to any newly discovered asteroid that once certain criteria are met to determine its orbit.
“Asteroids are just cool and 1999 RQ36 deserves a cool name!” said Bill Nye, chief executive officer for The Planetary Society. “Engaging kids around the world in a naming contest will get them tuned in to asteroids and asteroid science.”