In late October 2020, NASA conducted a landing sampling mission on the asteroid Bennu, a process that involved sinking the sampling head 1.6 feet into the surface and then releasing compressed nitrogen gas. The impact combined with the asteroid’s weak gravity has caused what NASA calls a “dramatic effect” on the sampling site, and now the space agency is taking a closer look at the damage.
The OSIRIS-REx mission was successful and resulted in the collection of material from the asteroid’s surface. NASA explains that its team plans a final flyby around Bennu on April 7 in order to monitor the sample collection site, and to give researchers a look at the damage caused by the spacecraft’s landing.
The observation will involve bringing the spacecraft to about 2.3 miles from the Bennu surface, which will be the closest it has been since the October event. Among other things, the compressed gas “crowd” a group of dust and rocks on the surface, especially in light of the asteroid’s low gravity.
“This recent flyby from Bennu will provide the mission team with an opportunity to see how the spacecraft’s contact with the Bennu surface changed the location of the sample and the surrounding area,” NASA explained In his recent announcement about the flight. The return trip will take two years and is scheduled to start in mid-May.
Images of the gathering site will be taken over a period of 5.9 hours and will cover nearly the entire rotation of the asteroid. The high-resolution images will contrast with the images captured and replay before the group takes place, revealing the changes brought about by OSIRIS-REx