Spacecraft with SDL Detectors Arrives at Asteroid


It will first survey the asteroid's surface for a year, before selecting a safe and "scientifically interesting' location to scoop up some rocks. Beginning with images of Earth and our Moon during the early stages of OSIRIS-REx's flight, then to our first images of Bennu, and up to today, the detector assemblies have been working as designed", said Jed Hancock, SDL's executive director of programs and operations and SDL program manager for OSIRIS-REx.

"The TAGSAM exercise is an important milestone, as the prime objective of the OSIRIS-REx mission is to return a sample of Bennu to Earth", said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

OSIRIS-REx will continue doing this over the next four weeks, during close flybys over Bennu's north pole, equator and south pole that will bring the probe as close as 4.4 miles (7.1 kilometers) to the asteroid's surface.

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. The third spectrometer, known as REXIS, is an X-ray spectrometer that will map out the individual elements present on Bennu's surface. McMahon explained that as OSIRIS-REx brushes past Bennu this time, the asteroid will exert a minute gravitational pull on the spacecraft. "Bennu is a building block of the planets that didn't end up in a planet". In particular, Bennu is a rare subset of asteroid, called a B-type asteroid, which means scientists suspect there should be organic compounds and wet clays on it.

"With asteroids, you have a time capsule".

Mission team members want to make sure they nail down Bennu's mass and precise shape before slipping into orbit around the asteroid on December 31.

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This close approach, followed by a flyby December 4, up is the first in a series of planned meet ups between the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) and Bennu. This will help scientists understand how much of a danger the asteroid presents to Earth and to draw up potential plans for diverting or deflecting Bennu if it is determined to be on a path for impact with the Earth. The asteroid fits a number of criteria that make it intriguing and convenient. A direct hit is unlikely, but the data gathered during this mission can help determine the best ways to deflect near-Earth asteroids.

"OSIRIS-REx seeks answers to the questions that are central to the human experience: Where did we come from?" I mentioned Bennu's orbit is Earth-like; in fact it gets close enough to Earth that's considered a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid, capable of impacting Earth.

It is believed that on this asteroid, water which is another vital component to the evolution of life may also be trapped in the asteroid's minerals. If it collided with Earth, Bennu would probably cause a crater. Achievement unlocked and "we have arrived", NASA announced on its official Twitter account.

Bennu probably broke off of a larger asteroid in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter a couple billion years ago.

To achieve this, the craft will establish a gradually tighter orbit by spiralling down to a distance of roughly six feet for its retrieval mission sometime in July 2020. So it's a pile of rubble held together by its own gravity.

Later this month, the Orbital A phase will start and OSIRIS-REx will go into a 50 hour close gravitationally bound orbit around Bennu, with an altitude of 0.9 - 1.2 miles (1.4 - 2.0 km) and the team will learn how to navigate around Bennu.