The American space agency NASA has decided to land its spacecraft on asteroid Bennu. The spacecraft OSIRIS-REx will probably touchdown on the Bennu surface in August next year. The agency has selected a site on Bennu for its safe landing. The site has been designated as Nightingale. It is located in a crater in the northern part. OSIRIS-REx was launched in 2016 to explore Bennu. The spacecraft arrived at the asteroid in December 2018 after a two-year journey. It is exploring Bennu since then which remains the smallest body ever orbited by spacecraft. The spacecraft has clicked and transmitted several images of the asteroid. The agency said it will collect a sample after touching down.
According to NASA, landing on the asteroid is difficult because of a beach-like surface. Also, the Bennu surface is covered with boulders. The spacecraft needs smooth areas for landing. Despite that, the OSIRIS-REx team was able to identify four locations potential for a safe landing. The sites were designated as Sandpiper, Osprey, Kingfisher, and Nightingale. After a detailed study of landing sites’ images, the team decided that OSIRIS-REx will land at Nightingale as it has favorable conditions. The site has the greatest amount of fine-grained material. It also has the most accessible spot for the spacecraft to collect a sample. NASA said the landing of the spacecraft will be crucial as it will determine the mission’s success.
The landing site is located in a crater which is 460 feet wide. It is located in the northern hemisphere of Bennu. Images show that soil here is dark and relatively smooth. This will make easier for OSIRIS-REx to land. It is believed to be relatively young. This means the soil in Nightingale is fresh and ideal for further study. Also, Nightingale is lower in temperature than other parts and therefore helps to preserve surface material. NASA said its sample collection mission is targeted for August 2020. The spacecraft leave Bennu in 2021 and return to Earth in 2023.