NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Mission

The OSIRIS-REx mission was launched by NASA in September 2016, with an aim to collect and carry at least 60 g (2.1 oz) asteroid samples back to Earth for detailed scientific research.

This mission has recently been in the news after the spacecraft touched down the surface of asteroid Bennu to collect the samples for further study. 

The table given below mentions a few of the most essential aspects of the OSIRIS-REx mission:

OSIRIS-REx Mission by NASA – All You Need To Know
Name of the Mission Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx)
Launch Date September 8, 2016
Launched By National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Launched From Cape Canaveral, Florida
Launch Vehicle Atlas V 411
Name of Spacecraft  OSIRIS-REx
Mass of Spacecraft 2110 kilograms
Date of Arrival at Asteroid Bennu December 3, 2018
Distance between Earth and Bennu Over 200 million miles
Duration of Mission 7 years (2016 – 2023)
Aim of the Mission To Collect and bring samples of Asteroid Bennu back to Earth by 2023
Departure from Space 2021

In this article, we shall discuss in detail the significance and importance of the OSIRIS-REx mission. This topic is important for candidates preparing for the upcoming Government exams, especially UPSC 2020.

Start your Government Exam preparation now and learn more about the various Indian and International Space Missions & Satellites with the help of links given below:

OSIRIS-REx Mission – Key Points

This is the first return sample mission launched by the United States for further research and study of asteroid material. Other countries have also launched such missions to study and research asteroids and comets. These include:

  • Hayabusa – A similar sample return asteroid mission by the Japanese Space Agency
  • Rosetta – A space probe by the European Space Agency for detailed study of comet 67P

Discussed below are all the important aspects of the OSIRIS-REx mission along with the latest developments.

OSIRIS-REx – About the Mission
  • Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft was launched on September 8, 2016, as the first-ever return-sample mission launched by the United Nations
  • It aims at collecting surface and dust particles from asteroid Bennu
  • After traveling for 2 years, the spacecraft reached the asteroid in December 2018
  • This 7-year mission started in 2016 and the spacecraft is expected to start its departure for Earth in 2021 and finally reach Earth in 2023
  • The spacecraft is expected to bring about 60 grams of the sample collected back to the Earth
  • As per NASA, this mission is expected to bring the largest amount of extraterrestrial material in the form of surface and dust particles back to the Earth, since the Apollo Era
  • The important instruments included in the spacecraft:
    • Camera Suite
    • Laser Altimeter
    • Visible, IR and Thermal Emission Spectrometer
    • Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism
    • Regolith X-ray Imaging Spectrometer
Objectives of OSIRIS-REx Mission

The name of the mission itself defines the objectives of the OSIRIS-REx:

  • Origins – Test the origin of pristine carbon-rich samples collected on the asteroid surface
  • Spectral Interpretation – Presenting observations based on the telescopic data achieved
  • Resource Identification – Studying the resources whose presence have been identified by the mission 
  • Security – To analyze the measure of sunlight of the asteroid orbit and change the trajectory of the asteroids
  • Regolith Explorer – Study the Regolith or the other/ loose layer of the surface of the asteroid
Significance of OSIRIS-REx Mission

The Bennu Asteroid is said to be one of the most hazardous asteroids which may impact Earth in the future. Thus, this mission holds significance in terms of NASA’s space program and also for discovering the elements which may later affect the existence of Earth.

Refer to the points of significance given below with respect to the OSIRIS-REx Mission:

  • To understand the evolution of the planet we live on and the entire solar system
  • To study elements like carbon which are present on the surface of Bennu asteroid and may come to use for human development
  • As per researchers, the Bennu asteroid is expected to affect Earth in a hazardous manner by the late 22nd Century, analysing its strengths and elements may safe the planet 
  • If the elements found on such asteroids are useful, they may play a significant role in refueling spacecraft
  • Since the asteroid is millions of years old, the minerals found on its surface may be brought to use by Astronauts or Scientists someday
About Bennu Asteroid

What is an asteroid?

The rocky objects which orbit the Sun and are smaller in size in comparison to planets are called asteroids. Over 9 lakhs known asteroids are present in space. These can be classified into three classes:

  • Main asteroid belt – Asteroids found between Mars and Jupiter
  • Trojan asteroids – Asteroids sharing an orbit with larger planets
  • Near-Earth asteroids – Asteroids with orbits passing close by the Earth

Why asteroid Bennu for OSIRIS-REx Mission?

There are various reasons why NASA chose Bennu for the mission:

  • Its orbit is in close proximity to Earth
  • The size of Bennu is approachable and is not very small. It is easy to land on its surface
  • Not many changes have been observed in Bennu ever since its existence. Thus is expected to unleash more information about the Solar System
  • It circles the Sun at the same plane as Earth does, which makes reaching it easier

When was Bennu discovered and by whom?

Bennu asteroid was discovered on September 11, 1999, by a NASA-funded team named, Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR). It is a 500-meter wide asteroid and was originally named 1999 RQ36. 

Based on the research done till date, it is said that the Bennu asteroid was formed around the time of the formation of the solar system. Thus, is expected to be approximately 4.5 million years old.  

During the OSIRIS-REx mission, it has also been discovered that a large part of the asteroid is empty from the center and is covered with huge builders on the outside. 

Latest Developments of the OSIRIS-REx Mission
  • The spacecraft reached Bennu on December 8, 2018, and started orbiting the asteroid on December 31, 2018
  • On October 20, 2020, the OSIRIS-REx completely landed over Bennu and started collected sample and specimen from the surface
  • As on October 27, 2020, the spacecraft is overflowing with the sample and NASA has decided to stow the abundant sample
  • The process of stowing the stuffed sample started off on October 28, 2020

The mission is already moving a step ahead of their expected timeline and the final departure of the spacecraft is scheduled for 2021. After traveling for 2 years, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is tentatively expected to reach Earth by 2023. 

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