NASA's Asteroid-Pushing Space Probe! Next stop at ex-planet-killer 'Apophys' near Miss Earth in 2029

NASA has returned its OSIRIS-REx spacecraft from its latest mission to the asteroid Bennu to study another celestial body, Apophis. Even more impressively, the new asteroid is going to make one of its closest passes to Earth in five years.

After successfully orbiting Bennu, following a mission change — a decision made after the discovery of excess fuel — NASA has renamed the probe OSIRIS-APEx. The Bennu mission was seven years and 4 billion miles long, and the new mission will last an equal amount of time.

Scientists have long made it clear that Apophis poses no danger to Earth based on a collision course. However, the study of celestial bodies still goes a long way in unraveling the mysteries behind the origin of the solar system billions of years ago, the formation of the planets and deep insights into the evolution of the universe. The Eurasian Times This domain of physics and astronomy has been touched upon earlier.

A series of model return tasks

However, OSIRIS' new mission comes after a series of successful manned spacecraft sent to explore other celestial bodies, including the European Space Agency's (ESA) Rosetta probe and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA) Hayabusa spacecraft.

Rosetta landed on the comet Philae on November 12, 2011, ten years after its launch on March 2, 2004. Meanwhile, Hayabusa not only landed on the Itokawa asteroid in November 2005, but also returned samples of the space rock to Earth in June. 13, 2010, It created a wonderful task.

Image of OSIRIS-REx touching Bennu. Source: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

A new asteroid for the space rock lander

Apophis, named after the Egyptian God of Chaos, is expected to come remarkably close to Earth's surface on April 13, 2029, within 32,000 kilometers of Earth's surface. This provides a unique opportunity to gather valuable data from the 370, closer than any recorded historical event. -meter (1,200-ft)-wide asteroid. The closest distance is visible to the naked eye from Earth's northern hemisphere.

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OSIRIS stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security, with a new mission name Apophis Explorer (APEx). It completed a seven-year mission to Bennu as the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft and returned a sample from Bennu's surface to Earth in September. With a quarter of its fuel remaining, NASA decided to relaunch it for a rendezvous with Apophis at a cost of $200 million.

What will it do to the new asteroid?

However, this mission will not involve landing on an asteroid, collecting a sample, and sending it back to Earth as was done with Bennu (explained later).

Instead, it will orbit the asteroid, come within five meters (16 feet) of the surface, and fire its thrusters to see how much dust is thrown up. „This maneuver will stir up surface rocks and dust to help scientists see objects below,” said A. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Report.

„The spacecraft will conduct many of the same surveys that Osiris-Rex did on Bennu, including using imagers, spectrometers and a laser altimeter to map the surface and closely analyze its chemical makeup,” the statement added.

OSIRIS-APEx's mission will continue near the asteroid for 18 months after it passes Earth. This extended mission period aims to observe and analyze the surface-induced changes and rotation of Apophis in the vicinity of Earth's gravity.

Apophis went from being a 'planet killer' to a wayfarer

The new mission can best be explained by the history behind the study of Apophis, which was originally thought to be a planet killer. But over the years, it was classified as a 'near-Earth asteroid' following further studies. „S-type” asteroids are composed of silicate and nickel-iron materials, distinguishing them from other rocks. Bennu, on the other hand, was rich in carbon.

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Discovered in 2004, Apophis was initially believed to be on a collision course with Earth and classified as 'stage 4' on the Torino scale. However, subsequent modeling in December 2004 ruled out the possibility of an impact. This was proven conclusively in June 2021 when Apophis passed within 17 million kilometers of Earth, and NASA immediately removed it from the list of close approaches to Earth.

Apophis Formed In the central asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, the gravity of the latter greatly alters its gravitational influence over millions of years. This caused it to orbit closer to the Sun and the Earth. Therefore, its current classification is that of a near-Earth asteroid rather than a main belt asteroid.

'Sample Return' from Bennu

How OSIRIS-REx returned the Bennu sample is a story straight out of science fiction and a marvel of human ingenuity. OSIRIS-REx was launched on September 8, 2016, flew past Earth on September 22, 2017, and rendezvoused with Bennu on December 3, 2018. It spent the next two years analyzing the surface to find a suitable site to extract the sample.

On October 20, 2020, OSIRIS-REx touched down and collected a sample of Bennu. It left Bennu on May 10, 2021 and returned its sample to Earth on September 24, 2023. Sample collection involved a close approach (without disembarking) to allow a robotic arm to extend and collect rock and soil fragments from Bennu. surface. Samples weigh less than 60 grams.

On May 10, 2021, the spacecraft lifted off from near Bennu and began its two-year journey back to Earth with a sample of the asteroid. In September 2023, 101,000 km (63,000 mi) from Earth, it ejected a capsule containing the sample. The capsule re-entered the atmosphere at 27,650 miles per hour (44,498.362-km/h) and landed under a parachute at the Utah Test and Training Range.

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