NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid probe has been orbiting the space rock named Bennu for about a year and has observed something interesting over the past 12 months. The main purpose of the mission was to take a sample of the asteroid material and then return to Earth so that scientists could study it up close. Before that, however, NASA must decide Bennu’s final landing site.
In the latest mission update on NASA’s website, NASA lists candidate sampling sites. Based on their low risk to the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, the space agency selected the proposed four sampling sites and named them Nightingale, Kingfisher, Osprey and Sandpiper.
The Surface of Bennu is completely covered with rock debris. If NASA’s spacecraft only makes observational trips, that won’t be a problem, but it’s not. The probe needs to land on an asteroid to get a sample of its material. The boulders and large rits on the asteroid’s surface pose a danger to the spacecraft, and NASA has scanned its surface for the safest areas.
Heather Enos, associate principal investigator for the project, explains: “The sampling site is really a comprehensive activity. This requires us to view many different types of data in many different ways to ensure that the selected location is the best choice for spacecraft safety, the presence of sampleable materials and scientific value. Our team’s high lying ability and integration are key to the selection process. “
Not long ago, Japan’s Osprey 2 asteroid probe completed a scientific sampling mission on the Dragon Palace asteroid and returned home. Spacecraft with safety samples will return to Earth by the end of 2020. OSIRIS-REx will collect samples in the summer of 2020 and is scheduled to return to Earth in the second half of 2023.