NASA’s OSIRIS-REx completed its last Bennu overflight around 6 a.m. EDT (4:00 p.m. MDT) on April 7 and is now slowly moving away from the asteroid; however, 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 the asteroid sample.
The OSIRIS-REx team added this flyover to document surface changes resulting from the Touch and Go (TAG) sampling maneuvers on October 20, 2020. “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 mechanical properties of the asteroid, “said Dr. Dante Lauretta, Principal Investigator for OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona.
During the flight, OSIRIS-REx photographed Bennu for 5.9 hours, covering more than the full rotation of the asteroid. It flew a distance of 3.5 kilometers to the surface of Bennu – the closest it 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. It shares the Deep Space Network antennas with other missions like Mars Perseverance, and usually gets 4-6 hours of downlink time a day. “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. During the touch, the spacecraft’s sampling head sank 48.8 centimeters into the surface of the asteroid and at the same time fired nitrogen into the atmosphere. The spacecraft thrusters ejected a large amount of surface material during the burns – launching rocks and dust in the process.
OSIRIS-REx, with its intact and precious asteroid cargo, 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’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, provides overall mission management, systems engineering, and mission security and security for OSIRIS-REx (Regolith Explorer Source Identification Security). Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is the principal investigator, and the University of Arizona also leads the science team and the planning and processing of science data in the mission. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver has built a spacecraft and provides flight operations. Goddard and KinetX Aerospace are responsible for navigating the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers program, managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
For more information on this story and OSIRIS-REx visit: https://www.nasa.gov/osiris-rex
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