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.
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.
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 created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.