Washington, April 8 (IANS): NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has completed Bennu’s last flight and is now slowly moving away from the asteroid, the US space agency said.
The flight was completed Wednesday around 6 a.m. EDT, but the mission team will have to wait a few more days to find out how the spacecraft changed the surface of Bennu when it grabbed a sample of the asteroid, NASA said.
The OSIRIS-REx team added this overflight to document surface changes resulting from the Touch and Go (TAG) sample collection maneuver on October 20th.
“By exploring the distribution of excavated material around the TAG site, we will learn more about the nature of surface and underground materials, along with the mechanical properties of asteroids,” Dante Lauretta, chief investigator for OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona, said in a statement.
During the flight, OSIRIS-REx photographed Bennu for 5.9 hours, covering more than the full rotation of the asteroid.
He flew 3.5 kilometers to the surface of Bennu – the closest he had been since the TAG sampling event.
It will take at least April 13 for OSIRIS-REx to connect all the data and new images of Bennu’s surface taken during the flight.
“We collected about 4,000 megabytes of data during the overflight,” said Mike Moreau, deputy project manager for OSIRIS-REx at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
“Bennu is currently approximately 185 million miles from Earth, which means we can only achieve a data rate of 412 kilobits per second, so it will take a few days to download all the flight data.”
Once the mission team receives images and other instrument data, they will study how OSIRIS-REx messed up Bennu’s surface.
OSIRIS-REx will remain near Bennu until May 10 when it will release its thrusters and begin a two-year cruise home.
The mission will deliver a sample of the asteroid to Earth on September 24, 2023, NASA said.