Mission to Bennu — NASA's OSIRIS-REx

Christopher Davidson
December 3, 2018

OSIRIS-Rex will stay alongside asteroid for two years and then will return to Earth in a historic first. It launched in September 2016 and will spend two years up close and personal with Bennu.

In the coming days, the spacecraft will get a little closer to begin its preliminary survey. This video illustrates each of the mission's carefully-designed orbit maneuvers and mapping campaigns on its journey to Bennu and back.

The actual arrival of the spacecraft won't be a touchdown or landing on the asteroid.

Once the NASA mission has successfully collected its spacedust from Bennu, the sample will be kept in a canister and returned to Earth in 2023, touching down in the Utah desert in late September, NASA said.

The Yarkovsky effect is when an asteroid or celestial body changes its orbit due to small push from heat.

A Japanese spacecraft, meanwhile, has been hanging out at another near-Earth asteroid since June, also for samples.

OSIRIS-REx has a camera suite, a laser altimeter for 3D mapping, a thermal emission spectrometer to take temperature and mineral content and spectrometers to measure X-rays, almost infrared and visible light.

After today, OSIRIS-REx will spend almost a year examining Bennu and sending back highly detailed images of its surface. During this contact, the arm will use a nitrogen gas burst to stir up rock and other materials on the surface so it can capture them.

The arm has a full range of motion, with joints capable of movement comparable to shoulder, elbow and wrist joints.

While the blurry snapshot might not look like much, its first look was the closest we've come to the space rock yet, at 1.4 million miles away.

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

About the size of an SUV, the spacecraft will shadow the asteroid for a year, before scooping up some gravel for return to Earth in 2023.

For two years after the return, the sample will be cataloged and analyzed. Researchers will provide a more precise description at a scientific meeting next Monday in Washington.

It's believed to have formed 4.5 billion years ago, a remnant of the solar system's building blocks. The asteroid fits a number of criteria that make it intriguing and convenient. That means they could smack Earth years from now.

Bennu is estimated to just over 500 metres across.

This enabled Osiris-Rex to match Bennu's velocity through space, and bring it to about 7km from the rock at closest approach. A direct hit is unlikely, but the data gathered during this mission can help determine the best ways to deflect near-Earth asteroids.

The long-awaited rendezvous officially kicks off the start of the ambitious mission to study a near-Earth object that could hold the key to understanding the origins of our solar system, and life itself.

This carbon-rich asteroid could be full of organic molecules, metals, platinum and even water - the essential ingredients for life.

A fragment of the early solar system, Bennu is also considered potentially unsafe.

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