NASA scientists confirmed Wednesday that the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft efficiently made contact with an asteroid a day earlier, touching the floor for six seconds and amassing mud and pebbles from its floor.
The spacecraft’s efficiency at the asteroid Bennu, which is solely about as broad as the Empire State Building is tall, was exceptional. Because the asteroid is so small, its gravity is negligible, which complicates orbital maneuvering by the spacecraft round what is, basically, a rubble pile.
Despite these challenges, at a distance of 320 million kilometers on Tuesday, NASA engineers and scientists programmed a spacecraft to autonomously touch down inside a single meter of its goal space.
Newly launched photographs of the encounter present the spacecraft’s sampling arm shifting towards the asteroid at a pace of 10cm per second and crushing rocks beneath it as it reaches the floor.
“Literally, we crushed it,” stated Dante Lauretta, principal investigator of the OSIRIS-REx mission. “When the spacecraft made contact, that rock appears to fragment and shatter, which is great news.” This is as a result of the “head” of the sampling arm can solely accumulate materials lower than 2cm in diameter.