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Jason DavisDecember 13, 2019

The Downlink: OSIRIS-REx Sample Site Picked, Easy-Access Water Ice on Mars

Bennu Sample Site with OSIRIS-REx Overlay

NASA / Goddard / University of Arizona

Bennu Sample Site with OSIRIS-REx Overlay
This image shows sample site Nightingale, OSIRIS-REx’s primary sample collection site on asteroid Bennu. The image is overlaid with a graphic of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to illustrate the scale of the site.

Welcome to issue 11 of The Downlink, a planetary exploration news roundup from The Planetary Society! Here's everything that crossed our radar this week.

Bennu NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission selected a location in asteroid Bennu’s northern hemisphere where it will collect a sample next August. The site, informally called Nightingale, is a 70-meter-wide, relatively young crater filled with fine-grained regolith. Read our solar system specialist Emily Lakdawalla’s Twitter thread for more information. OSIRIS-REx will depart Bennu in February or March 2021 and return the sample to Earth in 2023.  Learn more about OSIRIS-REx here.

Mars Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory say they’ve found a great spot for future astronauts to land on Mars. Data from the agency’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Odyssey spacecraft show there could be water ice just a few centimeters beneath the surface of a large, northern mid-latitude region. The ice might be relatively easy to harvest by hand to produce breathable air, drinkable water, and rocket propellant. 

Mars The European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft captured a new sequence of images of Mars' moon Phobos. The images were captured at a distance of about 2400 kilometers with the spacecraft's high resolution stereo camera, and used to make a flyby video. Mars Express entered orbit around Mars in 2004.

Comet Observations by the Hubble Space Telescope show that interstellar comet 2I/Borisov has a diameter of about 500 meters, or one-half of a kilometer. This would make it similar in size to Bennu, the asteroid being explored by OSIRIS-REx. Additional observations of Borisov have shown that its composition is similar to comets found in our own solar system.

Moon NASA intentionally destroyed a test hydrogen tank for its Space Launch System rocket in order to see how much stress the tank could withstand before bursting. Using a giant stand at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, engineers pushed and pulled on the tank using hydraulic cylinders to simulate the forces of launch. After enduring 260 percent of expected flight loads for 5 hours, a giant seam ripped down the side of the tank. The Planetary Society visited the test stand during our Rocket Road Trip in 2016. Learn more about NASA’s back-to-the-Moon Artemis program here.

Earth Two fresh cargo vehicles have arrived at the International Space Station: a Russian Progess and a SpaceX Dragon. Meanwhile, back on Earth, Boeing is preparing its Starliner spacecraft for a critical test-flight to the Station. Starliner could carry humans there as soon as next year. Launch is currently set for 20 December 2019. Learn more about the International Space Station here.

Solar System The Planetary Society is turning 40! For the past 4 decades we’ve been connecting people around the world with the passion, beauty, and joy of space exploration. A generous, anonymous donor has pledged to match all gifts to the Planetary Fund dollar-for-dollar up to a maximum of $100,000. Click here to launch our work into the next 40 years!

We heard you: Thanks for your feedback requesting an email version of The Downlink! You will find it in our redesigned Planetary Society newsletter in early 2020. Be among the first to receive it by subscribing to our email list today!

Read more: Space Launch System, Humans to Mars, Mars Express, OSIRIS-REx, the Moon, International Space Station, Mars, The Downlink, asteroid 101955 Bennu, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

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Jason Davis

Editorial Director for The Planetary Society
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