International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

Water traces found on 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


Water traces on asteroid

  1. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has discovered ingredients for water on a nearby skyscraper-sized asteroid that may hold clues to the origins of life on the earth.
  2. OSIRIS-REx, which flew last week within a scant 19 km of the asteroid Bennu some 2.25 million km from the earth, has found traces of hydrogen and oxygen molecules.


  1. The OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer) is a NASA asteroid study and sample-return mission launched in 2016.
  2. The mission’s main goal is to obtain a sample of at least 60 grams (2.1 oz) from 101955 Bennu, a carbonaceous near-Earth asteroid, and return the sample to Earth for a detailed analysis.
  3. Bennu orbits the Sun at roughly the same distance as the earth.
  4. There is concern among scientists about the possibility of Bennu impacting earth late in the 22nd century.

Why study asteroids?

  1. Asteroids are among the leftover debris from the solar system’s formation some 4.5 billion years ago.
  2. Scientists believe asteroids and comets crashing into early earth may have delivered organic compounds and water that seeded the planet for life.
  3. Atomic-level analysis of samples from Bennu could provide key evidence to support that hypothesis.

Sample collection and fly-back

  1. When samples of this material are returned by the mission to the earth in 2023, scientists will receive a treasure trove of new information about the history and evolution of our solar system.
  2. OSIRIS-REx will pass later this month just 1.9 km from Bennu, entering the asteroid’s gravitational pull and analysing its terrain.
  3. From there, the spacecraft will begin to gradually tighten its orbit around the asteroid, spiralling to within 2 meters of its surface so its robot arm can snatch a sample of Bennu by July 2020.
  4. The spacecraft will later fly back to the earth, jettisoning a capsule bearing the asteroid specimen in September 2023.
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