The agency says its OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has reached its hunk-of-rock target after a trip lasting two years and two billion miles.
"We know the burn is occurring", said Javi Cerna, an OSIRIS-REx telecom engineer, during a NASA TV broadcast from Lockheed Martin in Littleton, Colorado. The spacecraft has undertaken manoeuvres since the summer to change its velocity and prepare it for this approach and arrival.
Back at the University of Arizona, which is leading the mission, a crowd watching at the Stevie Eller Dance Theater broke into cheers.
Dante Lauretta, the lead scientist of the mission, tweeted he was "relieved, proud and anxious to start exploring!" following the arrival of the probe.
After a careful survey of Bennu to characterise the asteroid and locate the most promising sample sites, Osiris-Rex will collect between 2 and 70 ounces (about 60 to 2,000 grams) of surface material with its robotic arm and return the sample to Earth via a detachable capsule in 2023.
Scientists estimate there is a one-in-2,700 chance of the asteroid slamming catastrophically into Earth 166 years from now.
The OSIRIS-REx, after some moments of drama caused by the explosion of a Falcon 9 on a nearby launch pad and some quick work to ensure that this incident would not cause a loss of cooling capability to the spacecraft on its launch pad, launched successfully on September 8, 2016, at 7:05 pm Eastern Daylight Time.
"OSIRIS-REx is a mission to figure out where we came from, as asteroids are remnants from the formation of our solar system".
Artist's conception of OSIRIS-REx collecting space rocks on Bennu.
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"Now that I'm here, I'll fly around the asteroid and study it in detail". Bennu's orbit runs between those of Earth and of Mars instead of in the farther asteroid belt between those of Mars and Jupiter.
Osiris-Rex will later fly back to Earth, jettisoning a capsule bearing the asteroid specimen for a parachute descent in the Utah desert, U.S. in September 2023.
OSIRIS-REx will spend the next year in orbit around its target before dropping down briefly so it can get close enough to scoop up a sample of dirt and rock from the surface. The 25 November set was taken from a slightly longer distance than the 65 kilometer-range of the 27 November set.
Bennu was chosen by NASA for the OSIRIS-REx mission because if its proximity to Earth, its size and its composition.
In the coming days, the spacecraft will get a little closer to begin its preliminary survey. She said Bennu will be the smallest-ever object humans have navigated in this manner. The data will help determine potential sites for later sample collection. DellaGuistina said up-close looks at those locations will reveal objects on the surface as small as a penny. Our @OSIRISREx mission reached asteroid Bennu, where it will spend nearly a year mapping and studying to find a safe location to collect a sample. The probe will get within just 1 mile (1.6 km) of Bennu's surface on December 31, she said. That's where the CU Boulder team comes in.
The spacecraft will nominally collect a sample on 4 July 2020 and return it to Earth in 2023.
The data collected by OSIRIS-REx will prove useful in a variety of other ways as well, mission team members have said.
We've known for some time that it's diamond-shaped. The school's new strategic plan calls for making the UA the No. 1-ranked planetary science school in the world.
Lots of spacecraft have cameras and spectrometers, and laser altimeters are becoming more common, but the main focus of OSIRIS-REx is sample-return. Future space exploration and economic development may rely on asteroids for these materials.