NASA builds aircraft for deep space.
by PC World:
NASA will bring a beloved arcade game to life in 2014 when it deploys an unmanned spacecraft capable of busting up asteroids.
OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will be equipped with a robotic arm built to pluck samples from a near-Earth asteroid designated 1999 RQ36 when it reaches its destination in 2020. NASA announced its first-ever mission to retrieve asteroid samples and bring them back to Earth on Thursday.
“This is a critical step in meeting the objectives outlined by President Obama to extend our reach beyond low-Earth orbit and explore into deep space,” NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden said in a statement. “It’s robotic missions like these that will pave the way for future human space missions to an asteroid and other deep space destinations.”
Asteroids contain material left over from the cloud of gas and dust that cohered some 4.5 billion years ago to form the solar system we enjoy today—original material from the solar nebula that scientists believe contains important clues about the solar system’s birth.
NASA picked RQ36 for its relative closeness to Earth and primitive makeup.”This asteroid is a time capsule from the birth of our solar system and ushers in a new era of planetary exploration,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division. “The knowledge from the mission also will help us to develop methods to better track the orbits of asteroids.”
The Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer mission, or OSIRIS-REx for short, involves a four-year trip to the designated asteroid. When the Lockheed Martin Space Systems-built spacecraft gets to within three miles of the asteroid, it will conduct comprehensive mapping of RQ36’s surface, which is approximately 1,900 feet in diameter, for six months.
Scientists will then move the spacecraft in closer to a selected site where the robotic arm will pluck about two ounces of material, turn around and head back to Earth. The mission, excluding the launch vehicle, will cost about $800 million—meaning an ounce of asteroid material is worth about 263,000 times the current price of gold.
After collecting the sample, which NASA believes could contain organic molecules, the robot arm will place it in a capsule that will land at Utah’s Test and Training Range in 2023 in much the same way that NASA collected and recovered particles from come Wild 2 in 2006 with its Stardust spacecraft.
Once it’s arrived, the sample will then go to a dedicated research facility where hopefully it will yield up its secrets.
The OSIRIS-REx mission, the third in NASA’s New Frontiers Program, will also measure the “Yarkovsky effect” for the first time, according to the space agency. The Yarkovsky effect is a “small push” to an asteroid’s orbit that builds up over time as it absorbs sunlight and re-emits the energy as heat.
It is important for scientists to understand because even such small changes to the orbits of asteroids must be measurable to calculate whether one may someday strike the Earth.
NASA’s timing also fits well with the timeline of another article predicting an asteroid hitting Earth in 2182:
It was first discovered in 1999 and is more than 1,800 feet across. If an asteroid of this size hit the Earth it would cause widespread devastation and possible mass extinction.
And scientists say that any attempt to try and divert the asteroid will have to take place more than 100 years before it is due to hit to have any chance of success.
Hopefully, NASA finds success gathering particles to measure the Yarkovsky effect. For the sake of future humans.