Published: Thu, December 06, 2018
Research | By Raquel Erickson

Watch NASA live stream the arrival of its OSIRIS-REx asteroid probe

Watch NASA live stream the arrival of its OSIRIS-REx asteroid probe

The spacecraft, technically the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) is orbiting the asteroid Bennu, a diamond-shaped chunk of space rock with a varying orbit that keeps it around 100 million miles (160 million kilometers) from Earth.

Over the next four weeks, the spacecraft will conduct multiple flybys of Bennu, collecting data to help scientists determine the asteroid's mass.

This November 16, 2018 photo from NASA s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, obtained December 3, 2018 courtesy of NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona, shows the asteroid Bennu from a distance of 85 miles (136 km). The spacecraft will commence flyovers of Bennu's north pole, equatorial region, and south pole, getting as close as almost 4 miles (7 kilometers) above Bennu during each flyover. NASA expects to study Bennu over18 months. America's Trinity Chavez has the details of the years-long $800 million mission.

NASA scientists suspect Bennu might contain bounties of valuable resources that can be used for future deep space exploration.

"As explorers, we at NASA have never shied away from the most extreme challenges in the solar system in our quest for knowledge", said Lori Glaze, acting director for NASA's Planetary Science Division. Once back on Earth, scientists will be able to study a sample untouched since the early Solar System.

To counteract the influence of the sun, Adam and her colleagues will fly over Bennu's "terminator" line, where day turns to night on the asteroid's surface. After surveying Bennu, OSIRIS-REx will move into position to collect samples of the asteroid's surface material using its robotic arm.

But its orbit drifts 0.18 miles each year toward the sun, and OSIRIS-REx will enable researchers to understand why and to predict Bennu's movements. These maneuvers also targeted a trajectory to set up Monday's maneuver, which initiates the first north pole flyover and marks the spacecraft's arrival at Bennu.

As you can see, Bennu is weird. "We have arrived!" he called out moments later. With two years of flying already under its belt, expectations are high for the probe, but first NASA has to make sure it arrives safe and sound, and that's what today is all about.

Osiris-Rex will later fly back to Earth, jettisoning a capsule bearing the asteroid specimen for a parachute descent in the Utah desert, United States in September 2023.

Primitive* and carbon-rich* asteroids such as Bennu may not have changed very much since they formed 4.5 billion years ago. So close that it's considered a Potentially Hazardous Object (PHO), an object with an orbit that brings it close to Earth, and that's large enough to do serious damage if it struck.

The Atlas V 411 configuration launch vehicle performed well and the craft was on its way for a two year-plus trip to asteroid Bennu.

Both the spacecraft and the asteroid's names come from Egyptian mythology. Analysis of the regolith will also tell us more about the effects of space weathering on the surface of small bodies from harsh solar radiation.

Today, scientists burned the engines to place OSIRIS-REx safely in its orbit around Bennu, 7 kilometres from the asteroid at closest approach.

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