NASA's OSIRIS-REx space probe arrives at asteroid Bennu

06 December, 2018, 17:49 | Author: Kelly Sanders
  • This series of images taken by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft shows Bennu in one full rotation from a distance of around 50 miles. The spacecraft’s Poly Cam camera obtained the thirty-six 2.2-millisecond frames over a period of four hours and 18

The spacecraft has traveled more than two billion miles over more than two years, according to the space agency, which has shared an animation showing a full rotation of the Bennu asteroid.

This enabled Osiris-Rex to match Bennu's velocity through space, and bring it to about 7km from the rock at closest approach. The image, which was taken by the PolyCam camera, shows Bennu at 300 pixels and has been stretched to increase contrast between highlights and shadows.

The spacecraft executed a maneuver to transition from flying toward Bennu to flying around the distant asteroid on Monday - its 1.6-billion-mile journey officially complete.

Osiris-Rex will later fly back to Earth, jettisoning a capsule bearing the asteroid specimen for a parachute descent in the Utah desert, United States in September 2023. "To Bennu and back!"

OSIRIS-REx launched on 8 September 2016 from Cape Canaveral in the US. The company built the spacecraft there. Researchers will provide a more precise description at a scientific meeting next Monday in Washington. The spacecraft will perform a series of TAG, or touch-and-go, in which it will touch the surface of the asteroid for five seconds.

Another reason Bennu is chosen among over 500,000 known asteroids in the Solar System is its carbon-rich composition.

A Japanese spacecraft has been documenting another close-to-Earth asteroid called Ryugu since June.


For a sample-return mission, the asteroid has to be the right size. Its proximity to us made it a prime target for OSIRIS-REx. The sample container is planned to break loose and head toward Earth in 2021. If Osiris Rex is successful, its samples would be the biggest cosmic collection since Apollo astronauts hand-delivered moon rocks to Earth in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It's expected to arrive on September 2023 and the sealed sample contained will reenter the atmosphere using a heat shield and float back to scientists via parachute into the Utah desert. The craft will also scan the asteroid to find a safe and scientifically interesting location to land and sample.

Knowing the mass of this 1,600-foot-wide asteroid will reveal valuable information about not just Bennu, but other chunks of space debris, too, Scheeres said.

This means that there is a cumulative one in 2,700 chance of an Earth impact between 2175 and 2199. That solar energy is believed to be nudging the asteroid ever closer towards Earth's path each time the asteroid makes its closest approach to our planet every six years.

Contact with Bennu will not significantly change its orbit or make it more risky to Earth, Lauretta stressed. Scientists say the mission will tell us about the origins of the solar system and how to protect Earth from asteroid impacts.

Osiris-Rex is the first U.S. mission created to return a piece of an asteroid to Earth.

Both the spacecraft and asteroid's names come from Egyptian mythology.

After the polar passes, OSIRIS-REx will move on to Bennu's midsection for an equatorial survey, and spend most of 2019 getting a comprehensive look at the entire world.

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