January 19, 2019

NASA spacecraft enters asteroid Bennu's orbit, sets records

03 January 2019, 07:37 | Edward Lowe

Space probe Osiris-Rex makes closest ever orbit around smallest object

Spacecraft sets records orbiting asteroid 110m km away

The feat set two new records, as Bennu became the smallest space object to be circled by a human-made spacecraft and OSIRIS-REx reached the lowest orbit of a space object by a human spacecraft.

This was reported in the Twitter of the mission. At only around 1,600 feet in diameter, it's the smallest object ever to be successfully orbited, and OSIRIS-REx's close orbital distance of just over a mile is also record-breaking. Bennu is just 500 metres across.

Spacecraft sets records orbiting asteroid 110m km away
NASA space probe Osiris-Rex begins orbiting asteroid, makes history

Osiris-Rex arrived at Bennu in early December and flew in formation with it until the latest maneuver. Twitter mission has posted a video showing a quick recap of December's path of the probe. The goal is to descend to the surface and collect samples of regolith - loose rock and dust - for return to Earth in 2023.

"Entering orbit around Bennu is an wonderful accomplishment that our team has been planning for years", Lauretta said. "With the navigation campaign coming to an end, we are looking forward to the scientific mapping and sample site selection phase of the mission", Lauretta added. As the team learned more about the asteroid, we incorporated new information to hone in on the final orbit design.

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Osiris-Rex launches at Cape Canaveral in 2016.

The Osiris-Rex spacecraft has gone into orbit around asteroid Bennu. For example, the mission should increase scientists' understanding of the resource potential of Bennu-like asteroids and help fine-tune the trajectories researchers draw up for potentially unsafe space rocks, NASA officials have said.

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"Never before has a spacecraft explored something so far away". Sample collection is scheduled for early July 2020. In the case of Bennu, scientists can only measure these features by getting OSIRIS-REx very close to the surface to see how its trajectory bends from Bennu's gravitational pull. It poses a slight risk - a one in 2,700 chance - of colliding with Earth in 2135. At that point, the spacecraft will perform a series of close flybys of Bennu for several months to take high-resolution images of every square inch of the asteroid to help select a sampling site.

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