International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

NASA’s Osiris-Rex spacecraft arrives at asteroid Bennu


Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Osiris-Rex

Mains level: Space missions and their objectives


  • After a two-year chase, a NASA spacecraft arrived on December 3 at the ancient asteroid Bennu, its first visitor in billions of years.

Why it is important?

  1. The carbon-rich asteroid Bennu could hold evidence dating back to the beginning of our solar system 4.5 billion years ago.
  2. As such, it is an astronomical time capsule.
  3. NASA has brought back comet dust and solar wind particles before, but never asteroid samples.

About Osiris-Rex

  1. The $800 million Osiris-Rex mission began with a 2016 launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
  2. Both the spacecraft and asteroid’s names come from Egyptian mythology. Osiris is the god of the afterlife, while Bennu represents the heron and creation.
  3. Osiris-Rex is actually a NASA acronym for origins, spectral interpretation, resource identification, security-regolith explorer.
  4. Osiris-Rex aims to collect at least 60g of dust and gravel.
  5. The spacecraft won’t land, but rather use a 10-foot (3-metre) mechanical arm in 2020 to momentarily touchdown and vacuum up particles.
  6. The sample container would break loose and head toward Earth in 2021.
  7. The collection parachuting down to Utah would represent the biggest cosmic haul since the Apollo astronauts hand-delivered moon rocks to Earth in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Japan’s quest on asteroids

  1. A Japanese spacecraft, meanwhile, has been hanging out at another near-Earth asteroid since June, also for samples.
  2. It is Japan’s second asteroid mission. This latest rock is named Ryugu and about double the size of Bennu.
  3. Japan has also managed to return some tiny particles in 2010 from its first asteroid mission, also named Hayab

Danger posed by these asteroids

  1. Both Bennu and Ryugu are considered potentially hazardous asteroids.
  2. That means they could smack Earth years from now. At worst, Bennu would carve out a crater during a projected close call 150 years from now.
  3. Contact with Bennu will not significantly change its orbit or make it more dangerous to us.
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