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OSIRIS-REx sets sights on asteroid Bennu

NASA’s 1st mission to a near-Earth asteroid is now on its final approach, and the space agency released the craft’s 1st images late last week. It’ll arrive at asteroid Bennu on December 3.

NASA released the first images from its OSIRIS-REx mission on August 24, 2018. The mission launched in September, 2016, and, since then, has been traveling toward asteroid Bennu. Now it’s in the final approach phase of the mission, which is due to arrive at the asteroid on December 3.

The animation below consists of a cropped set of 5 images, obtained by the PolyCam camera on the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft over the course of an hour for calibration purposes and to assist the mission’s navigation team. It captured these images when the spacecraft had already traveled approximately 1.1 billion miles (1.8 billion km) since its September 8, 2016, launch.

At the time, the craft was only 1.4 million miles (2.3 million km) from asteroid Bennu … and closing.

This animation consists of 5 of the 1st images of asteroid Bennu via the OSIRIS-REx mission, acquired August 17, 2018, at 1.4 million miles (2.3 million km), or almost 6 times the distance between the Earth and moon. The asteroid is visible as a moving object against the stars in front of the constellation Serpens. The spacecraft is due to arrive at the asteroid on December 3, 2018. Image via NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona.

The coming months will be exciting as OSIRIS-REx – aka the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer – draws closer to its target. OSIRIS-REx is NASA’s first mission to visit a near-Earth asteroid, survey the surface, collect a sample and deliver it back to Earth. That asteroid sample is expected to return to Earth via free fall from space, until it reaches an altitude of 20.8 miles (33.5 km), when a first parachute will deploy. At 1.9 miles (3 km), the main parachute will be released, bringing the capsule with its precious cargo from Bennu in for a soft landing in the Utah desert on September 24, 2023.

Thus the mission will take seven years, from launch to sample return. Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson, commented:

Now that OSIRIS-REx is close enough to observe Bennu, the mission team will spend the next few months learning as much as possible about Bennu’s size, shape, surface features and surroundings before the spacecraft arrives at the asteroid.

After spending so long planning for this moment, I can’t wait to see what Bennu reveals to us.

Read more about OSIRIS-REx’s final approach to asteroid Bennu

Check out this OSIRIS-REx mission timeline

Bottom line: This week NASA released the 1st images of asteroid Bennu via OSIRIS-REx, its first mission to a near-Earth asteroid. The spacecraft will arrive at Bennu on December 3.

Deborah Byrd

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