After almost two years of Journey, NASA’s asteroid sampling spacecraft, the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) captured the first of an asteroid Bennu. Bennu is a B-type asteroid with a ~ 500-meter diameter. It completes an orbit around the Sun every 436.604 days (1.2 years) and every six years comes very close to Earth, within 0.002 AU.
With the help of OSIRIS-REx‘s PolyCam camera, the spacecraft has obtained the image from a distance of 1.4 million miles. 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.
OSIRIS-REx launched in September 2016 and came close enough to capture the first images of its destination last week, which were just released during this Friday’s press call. The spacecraft pointed its cameras at the asteroid on Aug. 17 and snapped the closest photos ever of Bennu from a distance of 1.4 million miles (2.2 million km).
Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson said, “After spending so long planning for this moment, I can’t wait to see what Bennu reveals to us.”
Amongst now and December, the shuttle will move ever closer to the asteroid, reviewing the area and inevitably mapping the surface and turn of Bennu. This is all in anticipation of a five-second high-five of the space rock with a uniquely planned mechanical arm that will take an example to bring home for analysis.
Rich Burns, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland said, “Bennu’s low gravity provides a unique challenge for the mission. At roughly 0.3 miles [500 meters] in diameter, Bennu will be the smallest object that any spacecraft has ever orbited.”
The spacecraft will extensively survey the asteroid before the mission team identifies two possible sample sites. Close examination of these sites will allow the team to pick one for sample collection, scheduled for early July 2020.