Wednesday, 12 December, 2018

REx is About to Meet an Asteroid

This series of images taken by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft shows Bennu in one full rotation from a distance of around 50 miles. The spacecraft’s Poly Cam camera obtained the thirty-six 2.2-millisecond frames over a period of four hours and 18 Watch NASA live stream the arrival of its OSIRIS-REx asteroid probe
Kristen Harrington | 06 December, 2018, 15:46

"As soon as we're done here, I want to get to my office and get back to work", he said.

And OSIRIS-REx's precise tracking of Bennu through space will help researchers better understand the non-gravitational forces (specifically, the Yarkovsky effect) that shape asteroids' trajectories. From 17 August through 27 November, the spacecraft's PolyCam camera imaged Bennu nearly daily as the spacecraft covered the remaining 2.2 million kilometers toward the asteroid. Osiris will continue to approach Bennu in the coming days and enter its orbit on December 31.

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

This enabled Osiris-Rex to match Bennu's velocity through space, and bring it to about 7km from the rock at closest approach. Engineers will once again watch closely as the spacecraft's radio frequency shifts, this time not because of an engine burn, but because Bennu's gravity is tugging on the spacecraft.

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"Now that I'm here, I'll fly around the asteroid and study it in detail".

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. The third spectrometer, known as REXIS, is an X-ray spectrometer that will map out the individual elements present on Bennu's surface.

The third camera is created to monitor the operation of the manipulator TAGSAM. If Osiris Rex is successful, its samples would be the biggest cosmic collection since Apollo astronauts hand-delivered moon rocks to Earth in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The images were taken from an animation released by the mission. In July 2020, after a year and a half of detailed mapping and rehearsals, OSIRIS-REx will briefly push TAGSAM, shaped somewhat like an inverted pie dish, into contact with the surface of Bennu. The agency's most exhaustive visit was made by the Dawn spacecraft, which ended its mission earlier this year.

"The spacecraft is already in Bennu's gravitational* influence and, according to NASA's calculations, is set to officially arrive in orbit, just 2km above the asteroid, on Tuesday at around 4am AEDT*", CSIRO* tracking station spokesman Glen Nagle said. DellaGuistina said up-close looks at those locations will reveal objects on the surface as small as a penny.

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After a careful survey of Bennu to characterise the asteroid and locate the most promising sample sites, Osiris-Rex will collect between 2 and 70 ounces (about 60 to 2,000 grams) of surface material with its robotic arm and return the sample to Earth via a detachable capsule in 2023. It's what's called a rubble pile asteroid: Instead of a single monolithic piece of rock, countless low-speed impacts with other asteroids over the eons have sent cracks and fissures into it, basically shattering it in place. The spacecraft will spend a year surveying Bennu before collecting a sample that will be returned to Earth for analysis. "Watching the team celebrate such an fantastic milestone brings personal joy to me in so many ways I can't even explain", Heather Enos, the Osiris-Rex deputy principal investigator said of the momentous occasion.

Osiris Rex carries a camera able to see objects as small as a penny.

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