Bennu's surface is covered by fragments of various sizes, posing a challenge to the NASA team, who still need to decide where to place the detector on the asteroid to collect the sample. Now, using the built-in laser instrument of OSIRIS-REx, NASA has studied in detail the true danger level of the Bennu surface.
In a new blog post, NASA explained how the agency used a tool called the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA) to scan most of Bennu's surface. The instrument depicts a 3D image of the Bennu surface of the laser reflection, providing NASA researchers with a detailed view of the asteroid rock surface.
Choosing the location of the detector's touchdown can ultimately determine the most dangerous maneuver of the mission - short touch and sampling - will be a success or a failure. Touching the ground in an area with too many debris can have catastrophic consequences for the detector, causing the detector itself to be damaged and possibly damaging one of its primary goals.
The asteroid's 3D laser model provides the NASA team with more information about which parts of the asteroid look safer. Avoiding large boulders is clearly the key, but since Bennu looks very "clean" with little space, deciding on the best sample collection remains a challenge.
However, NASA still has plenty of time to make this decision, and the investigation plans to remain in orbit around Bennu during 2019 and then try the most dangerous moves. At the same time, we will increasingly learn about this strangely shaped asteroid, as OSIRIS-REx continues to transmit data back to Earth.