The OSIRUS-Rex Asteroid-Sampling Mission: What It Is And Why It's Important

May 17, 2019

You may have heard the name OSIRUS-Rex in the news lately. It is a NASA-sponsored spacecraft that was launched on the 8th of September 2016 and has recently entered into orbit around the asteroid Bennu, a small spinning top shaped asteroid composed of gravel like material. 

Bennu’s rate of spin is slowly accelerating at a rate of about one second per century. Dust and gravel on Bennu have been observed ejecting into space. The purpose of the OSIRUS-Rex mission is to gather at least 2 ounces of material from the asteroid and bring it back to earth for further study.

To get the sample the spacecraft will gently land on Bennu and press against the surface for five seconds at which point a canister of Nitrogen will blow on the surface pushing material from the asteroid into a chamber. It will have three chances to collect samples before returning them to earth. Once it is determined that a sufficient sample has been collected it will be placed in a Sample return capsule and sent back earth. The sample will arrive at earth on the 24th of September 2023.

The purpose of the mission is to better understand the composition of our solar system in its early days, and what role asteroids such as Bennu played in its formation.