TAMPA: NASA’s first-ever mission designed to visit an asteroid and return a sample of its dust back to Earth arrived Monday at its destination, Bennu, two years after launching from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The $800 million unmanned mission, known as OSIRIS-REx, made a rendezvous with the asteroid at around 12:10 pm (1710 GMT), firing its engines a final time.
“We have arrived,” said Javier Cerna, an engineer at Lockheed Martin, as his colleagues at mission control in Littleton, Colorado cheered and exchanged high-fives, according to a live NASA television broadcast.
Bennu is about 1,600 feet (500 meters) in diameter, about the size of a small mountain. It is the smallest object ever to be orbited by a human-made spacecraft.
A fragment of the early solar system, Bennu is also considered potentially dangerous. It poses a slight risk — a one in 2,700 chance — of colliding with Earth in 2135.
The carbon-rich asteroid was chosen from some 500,000 asteroids in the solar system because it orbits close to Earth’s path around the Sun, is the right size for the scientific study, and is one of the oldest asteroids known to NASA.
Scientists hope it will reveal more about the early formation of the solar system, as well as how to find precious resources like metals and water in asteroids.
“With asteroids, you have a time capsule. You have a pristine sample of what the solar system was like billions of years ago,” said Michelle Thaller, a spokeswoman for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
“That is why for scientists this sample is going to be far more precious than even gold.”
The mission launched in September 2016. Over the past several months, OSIRIS REx has been creeping toward Bennu, and finally reached the space rock when it was about 80 million miles (129 million kilometers) from Earth.
“For the past several months, Bennu has been coming into focus as I approached,” said NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Twitter account.
“Now that I’m here, I’ll fly around the asteroid and study it in detail.”
The spacecraft is equipped with a suite of five science instruments to study the asteroid for the next year and a half, mapping it in high resolution to help scientists decide precisely where to sample from.
Then, in 2020, it will reach out with its robotic arm and touch the asteroid in a maneuver Rich Kuhns, OSIRIS-REx program manager with Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver, described as a “gentle high-five.”
Using a circular device much like a car’s air filter, and a reverse vacuum to stir up and collect dust, the device aims to grab about two ounces (60 grams) of material from the asteroid’s surface and return it to Earth for further study.
NASA says it may get much more material, perhaps up to four pounds (two kilograms).
The US space agency hopes to use OSIRIS-REx to bring back the largest payload of space samples since the Apollo era of the 1960s and 1970s when American explorers collected and carried back to Earth 842 pounds (382 kilograms) of Moon rocks.
Japanese space agency JAXA first proved sample collection from an asteroid was possible.
JAXA’s Hayabusa spacecraft crash-landed into the surface of its target asteroid and managed to return a few micrograms of material in 2010.
Once the NASA mission has successfully collected its space dust from Bennu, the sample will be kept in a canister and returned to Earth in 2023, touching down in the Utah desert in late September, NASA said.
OSIRIS-REx stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer.
Huawei’s founder says world can’t live without it
BEIJING: The founder of Chinese telecom giant Huawei has hit back at US efforts to blacklist the company, saying defiantly that the world cannot do without Huawei and its “more advanced” technology.
“There’s no way the US can crush us,” Ren Zhengfei said in an interview with the BBC.
“The world cannot leave us because we are more advanced.”
Ren, 74, also denounced as “politically motivated” the December arrest of his daughter, Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou, who is accused of violating US sanctions against Iran and faces an extradition hearing in Canada next month.
“We object to this,” he said.
“But now that we’ve gone down this path, we’ll let the courts settle it.”
The normally media-shy Huawei founder has been forced to step into the limelight in recent months as the company has come under increasing pressure over espionage concerns and the US-led campaign to persuade other countries to ban its technology.
Last year, security concerns prompted Australia to ban Huawei equipment from its future 5G network.
New Zealand has also blocked its largest telecom carrier from using Huawei technology for the next generation network, while the Czech Republic has reportedly excluded it from a 20-million-euro ($22 million) tender to build a tax portal.
US prosecutors are also charging Huawei with stealing trade secrets, saying it offered rewards to employees for stealing technology from other rivals.
Ren shrugged off the growing pressure.
“If the lights go out in the West, the East will still shine,” he said. “America doesn’t represent the world.”
“Even if they persuade more countries not to use us temporarily, we can always downsize and become smaller.”
Russia to send tourists to near-Earth orbit on “space yacht”
MOSCOW: Russia is developing a “space yacht” that is able to take off from ordinary airfields like an aircraft to send tourists to near-Earth orbit, a chief designer of NPO Aviation and Space Technologies told Sputnik news agency.
A number of private companies are working on the unmanned spacecraft dubbed Selena Space Yacht with the support of the National Technology Initiative’s (NTI) AeroNet and SpaceNet working groups, designer Alexander Begak said in an interview.
“We have an opportunity to land on any airfield, the device lands like an airplane … We now calculate the optimal time for space travel, a comfortable flight path, because experience shows that people do not need to be in zero-gravity condition for as long as 10 minutes,” Begak said, adding that the development of the spacecraft began two years ago.
Three “space yachts” will be produced, with six passenger seats and one pilot seat each. Though the spacecraft will be unmanned, the pilot will be present for the convenience of passengers, Begak said.
The cost of the flight will be about 200,000-300,000 U.S. dollars per person.
Begak said that the first flights may start in five years.
South Korea ranks 7th in OECD’s science, technology capabilities scale in 2018
SEOUL: South Korea’s science and technology capabilities ranked seventh among other major economies in 2018, a state-run think tank said Monday.
The Korea Institute of S&T Evaluation and Planning (KISTEP) said its evaluation was compared against one done on the 34-member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) last year.
The evaluation was based on five categories: research environment, support from both the public and private sectors, quality of work carried out by scientists and engineers, the results of research and overall network capabilities, KISTEP said.
The United States came in first in 2018, followed by Switzerland, Japan, Israel, Germany and the Netherlands, according to the KISTEP.