Nasa probe closes in on asteroid that could collide with Earth

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Later this month, the Orbital A phase will start and OSIRIS-REx will go into a 50 hour close gravitationally bound orbit around Bennu, with an altitude of 0.9 - 1.2 miles (1.4 - 2.0 km) and the team will learn how to navigate around Bennu.

The $800m Osiris-Rex mission began with a 2016 launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida. "We've been preparing for this moment for years, and we're ready".

Principal investigator Dante Lauretta is looking forward to opening that sample.

"As soon as we're done here, I want to get to my office and get back to work", he said.

The agency describes Bennu as "a carbonaceous asteroid whose regolith may record the earliest history of our solar system". The final images were obtained from a distance of about 65 km kilometers.

NASA's Osiris-Rex spacecraft is now just a few miles from a skyscraper-sized asteroid, Bennu, which has the potential to hit Earth in just over 150 years time.

The spacecraft will spend the next year completing a detailed survey of the surface of Bennu (492 metres in diameter)-including locating the most suitable landing sites.

OSIRIS-REx was within 12 miles of Bennu's surface - about the distance between the White House and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, which manages the spacecraft.

"Now that I'm here, I'll fly around the asteroid and study it in detail". This near-Earth asteroid was chosen for study as it orbits around the Sun every 1.2 years and comes very close to Earth every six years, thereby throwing a probability of colliding with Earth in the late 22nd century.

Watch NASA live stream the arrival of its OSIRIS-REx asteroid probe
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The third camera is created to monitor the operation of the manipulator TAGSAM.

Just days ago, Osiris-Rex flexed its mechanical arm through a full range of motion for the first time in space ahead of reaching Bennu; eventually, this instrument will be used to pluck a regolith sample from the surface to bring back home.

The mission marks the first attempt by a United States craft to successfully land on an asteroid following Japan's recent success with the Ryugu asteroid, which is approximately double the size of Bennu. The images were taken from an animation released by the mission. However, the space probe's main mission will not begin until next year.

The Yarkovsky effect is when an asteroid or celestial body changes its orbit due to small push from heat. By the end of the probe's mission, Bennu will have become the smallest known object ever orbited by a spacecraft and by 2020 will be able to connect and collect material samples. Early images show it looks like a "rubble pile".

It will return the sample to earth in 2023 for analysis by NASA scientists. Lauretta said there was a chance of sending the carrier spacecraft on an extended mission after that, but for now, he wants the team to stay focused on the primary mission. UA leads the Osiris Rex mission.

OSIRIS-REx is in no hurry.

University of Arizona President Doctor Robert Robbins says space science can help propel the whole university.

Accordingly, NASA wants to know exactly what Bennu - and asteroids like it - are composed of, should future engineers have to use lasers or still-unknown technology to deflect the ominous space rock away from our planet. Read the original article.