NASA’s Asteroid-Sampling Spacecraft OSIRIS-REx is making its mating dance for conquering asteroid Bennu’s sample. OSIRIS-REx is doing that since 2018, and it’s on its last phases to finally collect that sample and get back home.
Collecting samples from an asteroid you know almost nothing about before doesn’t come easy. For a year, OSIRIS-REx made its acquaintance with Bennu in search of the sampling site. It found four of them and, after naming them with avian names, it decided that the Nightingale would be the primary site, and the Osprey the backup location. Kingfisher and Sandpiper didn’t rise to OSIRIS-REx’ claims. Too bumpy, perhaps.
After choosing Nightingale and making the story resembling Romeo and Juliet, OSIRIS-REx tested the site in three phases process. With each phase is got closer to Bennu’s surface, took pictures, and processed the data for the next stage. On March 3, it flew over at an altitude of 250 meters (820 ft).
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx get closer to collecting samples from Asteroid Bennu
Now, the Asteroid-Sampling Spacecraft is ready to get to the next level of closeness: the sampling rehearsal. This level has two phases: the Checkpoint maneuver and the Matchpoint rehearsal.
The Checkpoint maneuver will take place on April 15. The spacecraft will stop its descent at 50 meters (164 feet) from the Nightingale surface, and then it will begin backing away. Matchpoint rehearsal will be happening in June, and this time, it’ll get as close as between 25 to 40 meters (82 to 131 feet). And, again, it will back away.
OSIRIS-REx is an Artificial Intelligence and is making its own decisions. After gathering details and processing them, it decides if the next phase is feasible. If, at any part of the process, it considers the mission to be too risky, it can abort and choose either to move to the Osprey or to return to Earth without the sample.
If everything goes as planned, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx will move to the final stage of the mission: in August, it will collect the sample and get back on the orbit that will get it home safe.