Asteroid Bennu (Photo Credit: NASA Goddard/GSFC)

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft has arrived at the asteroid Bennu after two years of rigorous planning.

At approximately 12:00 p.m. EST today, OSIRIS-REx fired its thrusters and placed itself roughly 4.3 miles from the asteroid, reported CNN.

Bennu Arrival (Photo Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/University of Arizona)

OSIRIS-REx, which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security Regolith Explorer, is NASA’s first mission involving an asteroid sample return. In September 2016, OSIRIS-REx went up to space to get acquainted with Bennu. According OSIRIS-REx’s first images, the spacecraft has moved closer to Bennu over the past two years.

“Bennu’s low gravity provides a unique challenge for the mission,” Rich Burns, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, told CNN. “At roughly 0.3 miles in diameter, Bennu will be the smallest object that any spacecraft has ever orbited.”

On Tuesday, OSIRIS-REx will fly close (approximately 5 miles) to the asteroid and map its surface. Following this move, it will spend the next year surveying Bennu using five scientific instruments on board. Each instrument will help OSIRIS-REx detect a safe location to collect a tiny sample from Bennu’s surface.

In September 2023, the sample will be assembled into a capsule and returned to Earth for further testing. From 2023 to 2025, the sample will then be studied and catalogued. Following this stage, seventy-five percent of the sample will stay at NASA’s Johnson Space Flight Center in Houston and be studied by global scientists in the future.

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