× NASA Just Launched a Spacecraft That Will Crash Into an Asteroid
How cool is this? NASA just put together a spacecraft that is designed to hit an asteroid and slam it into the surface. Yes, really.
The craft was launched on April 28 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. A box of amino acids in a small bottle was nestled inside. An Einsteinian rocket kicked up enough fuel to send the bomb hurtling toward a near-Earth asteroid named Bennu. NASA says once the craft hits the asteroid, it will impact.
This asteroid is an ideal candidate for such a smashing. If Bennu hit Earth, the impact would generate the amount of energy equivalent to that used by a Hiroshima-size bomb. What’s more, Bennu is traveling at nearly 37,000 mph, approximately the speed of a speeding bullet.
According to NASA, Bennu is a “near-Earth object,” which means it’s one that orbits our planet. There are thousands of near-Earth asteroids, though this rock is considered one of the more desirable targets for NASA’s OSIRIS-REx. The name is a bit of science, as “repository of ancient cosmic dust,” the surface is “part-rotation,” according to NASA, and “part-gravity,” and “part-asteroid.”
Bennu is only 1.6 miles in diameter, but OSIRIS-REx is designed to focus its propulsion on Bennu’s “near-surface” to give the probe a momentous 2-inch lift. The device will first enter Bennu’s orbit, and then slam the bomb.
OSIRIS-REx, short for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, was designed and built by scientists at the University of Arizona. A two-year solar-powered mission will explore the spacecraft and head to Bennu’s surface.
It’s anticipated that the OSIRIS-REx probe will arrive at Bennu in 2023. At that point, it will spend seven years making measurements and analyzing the asteroid and its composition. By the end of 2027, the probe will have to exit Bennu’s orbit to let it pass through Earth’s shadow. When OSIRIS-REx blasts it a second time, Earth’s gravity will help it slow down and be prepared to travel to the asteroid’s orbit in 2023.
NASA says the probe will be “the first mission to sample an asteroid, return it to Earth, and return it intact for study, never leaving our planet.” So that’s something.