NASA Spacecraft Buzzes Earth on Way to Distant Asteroid Bennu

A NASA asteroid-sampling examine has only pronounced goodbye to Earth for a second time.


The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft zoomed past a universe this afternoon (Sept. 22), a tiny over a year after rising on a goal to a large near-Earth asteroid Bennu.

The probe’s closest proceed came during 12:52 p.m. EDT (1752 GMT), when OSIRIS-REx upheld a tiny 10,711 miles (17,237 kilometers) above Antarctica nearby a southern tip of South America, NASA officials said. [OSIRIS-REx: NASA’s Asteroid Sample-Return Mission in Pictures]

OSIRIS-REx didn’t come behind given it was homesick. Today’s flyby was designed to boost a probe’s speed and labour a march toward a 1,640-foot-wide (500 meters) Bennu, whose circuit around a intent is slanted by 6 degrees relations to that of Earth.

Credit: NASA

“When we do this [flyby], we get tighten adequate to where we start to have that gravitational lift and that movement change,” OSIRIS-REx emissary module scientist Christina Richey, of NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., pronounced during a Facebook Live eventuality today, about an hour before closest approach.

“We’re going to use that to whiplash around — basically, to change a instruction so that we’re in a same directional trail as Bennu,” Richey added.

Such “gravity assists” are common in heavenly missions. For example, NASA’s Juno Jupiter examine flew by Earth in Oct 2013 — some-more than dual years after lifting off — and increasing a speed by about 8,800 mph (14,200 km/h) in a process. (Juno’s flyby was many closer than OSIRIS-REx’s; a Jupiter qualification came within a tiny 347 miles, or 559 km, of a planet.)

Today’s flyby increasing OSIRIS-REx’s speed by 8,451 mph (13,601 km/h), NASA officials said.

The $800 million OSIRIS-REx goal launched on Sept. 8, 2016. The probe, that has put about 600 million miles (960 million km) on a odometer during a 54 weeks in space, came barreling toward Earth currently during about 19,000 mph (30,000 km/h), NASA officials said.

The tighten proceed over Antarctica was approaching to take OSIRIS-REx out of hit with a handlers for about 50 minutes.

“OSIRIS-REx uses a Deep Space Network to promulgate with Earth, and a booster will be too low relations to a southern setting to be in perspective with possibly a Deep Space tracking hire during Canberra, Australia, or Goldstone, California,” Mike Moreau, a moody dynamics complement lead during NASA’s Goddard Space Flight System in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a statement late final month. 

Four hours after a closest approach, a booster will start investigate Earth and a moon to regulate a scholarship instruments, goal group members said. In a few weeks, they added, OSIRIS-REx’s arena toward Bennu will be assessed.

NASA and a OSIRIS-REx group have been enlivening a open to observe OSIRIS-REx as it approached Earth (though doing so substantially compulsory a telescope with an orifice of during slightest 8 inches, or 20 centimeters). If we took a print of OSIRIS-REx in a sky, we can upload it to a mission’s “Spot a Spacecraft” page: http://www.asteroidmission.org/upload-spacecraft-imagery/

Credit: NASA/University of Arizona/Lockheed Martin
NASA is promulgation a examine to a asteroid Bennu to collect samples from a space stone and lapse them to Earth. a href=http://www.space.com/11808-nasa-asteroid-mission-osiris-rex-1999-rq36-infographic.htmlSee how NASA's OSIRIS-REx goal to collect samples of a asteroid 1999 RQ36 will occur in this Space.com infographic/a.
Credit: Karl Tate/SPACE.com

If all goes according to plan, OSIRIS-REx will arrive in circuit around Bennu in late 2018. This is no meant feat, goal group members stressed.

“The asteroid’s tiny stretch and low sobriety creates OSIRIS-REx a many severe goal that we have worked on,” navigation group personality Peter Antreasian, of a Arizona-based association KinetX Aerospace, pronounced in a same statement. “At roughly 500 meters in diameter, Bennu will be a smallest intent that NASA has orbited.”

OSIRIS-REx will investigate Bennu from circuit for some-more than a year. Then, in Jul 2020, it will make a approach to a space rock’s aspect and obstacle during slightest 2.1 ounces (60 grams) of mud and rock.

In Mar 2021, a booster will start a journey behind to Earth with this changed load stowed in a lapse capsule. After reaching a closeness of a universe in Sep 2023, OSIRIS-REx will sale a lapse capsule, that will make a parachute-assisted alighting in a Utah desert. The probe, meanwhile, will put itself into a fast circuit around a sun.

The Bennu representation — a largest collection of vast element brought to Earth given a Apollo epoch — will be complicated by scientists around a world. Such analyses should strew light on a solar system’s early days, generally a purpose that primitive, carbon-rich asteroids such as Bennu might have played in delivering amino acids and other building blocks of life to Earth, NASA officials have said.

And there’s no revelation what else scientists might learn from a Bennu material, that will be complicated for years to come, goal group members have said.

Returned samples “are a present that keeps giving,” Jim Garvin, arch scientist during NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, pronounced during today’s Facebook Live event.

The goal might also assistance researchers improved know a apparatus intensity of asteroids and how to inhibit potentially dangerous space rocks divided from Earth, according to group members. Indeed, these envisioned contributions are identified in OSIRIS-REx’s full name: Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer.

Editor’s note: If we prisoner a good print of OSIRIS-REx by a telescope and would like to share it with Space.com and a news partners for a story or gallery, send images and comments in to: spacephotos@space.com. 

Note: Space.com Senior Producer Steve Spaleta contributed to this report.

This story was updated during 3:15 p.m. EDT to give OSIRIS-REx’s accurate flyby stretch and speed increase.

Follow Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook or Google+. Originally published on Space.com.


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