NASA’s Osiris-Rex space probe has arrived at the asteroid Bennu. Around 500m wide, Bennu looks sort of like a barbecue briquet floating in space.
In July 2020, Osiris-Rex will bounce off the surface of Bennu to take a sample of the asteroid and return the metals to Earth in 2023. Asteroid mining is one potential practical application of spacecraft that can fly out to the solar system and return space materials to scientists and engineers.
Another purpose for this mission is being directed by NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office. Bennu is large enough to leave much of it intact through a fiery atmospheric descent to Earth. In the middle of the next century, the asteroid will pass closely with a 1 in 2,700 chance of hitting the Earth. Though the main mission is to bounce off Bennu, the second half is to understand if the giant BBQ briquet might bounce off Earth sometime between 2175 and 2196.
This story is featured in the 7 December 2018 edition of The Warren Centre’s Prototype newsletter. Sign up for the Prototype here.