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NASA Spacecraft’s First Orbit Around Asteroid Bennu Breaks Record

The OSIRIS-REx mission is scheduled to deliver the sample to Earth in September 2023

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Nasa's Opportunity rover might have 'died' on Mars. Flickr

Breaking a space exploration record on New Year’s Eve, NASA first asteroid-sampling mission, OSIRIS-REx, entered into orbit around the Bennu, making it the smallest object ever to be orbited by a spacecraft.

Inching around the asteroid at a snail’s pace, OSIRIS-REx’s first orbit marks a leap for humankind.

Never before has a spacecraft from Earth circled so close to such a small space object – one with barely enough gravity to keep a vehicle in a stable orbit.

The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) arrived at asteroid Bennu on December 3.

The spacecraft, 110 million kilometres away, carried out a single, eight-second burn of its thrusters on Monday.

“The team continued our long string of successes by executing the orbit-insertion maneouvre perfectly,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx Principal Investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson, US.

“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.

“Entering orbit around Bennu is an amazing accomplishment that our team has been planning for years,” Lauretta said.

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Inching around the asteroid at a snail’s pace, OSIRIS-REx’s first orbit marks a leap for humankind. Flcikr

Now, the spacecraft will circle Bennu about a 1.75 kilometres from its centre, closer than any other spacecraft has come to its celestial object of study.

Previously the closest orbit of a planetary body was in May 2016, when the Rosetta spacecraft orbited about seven kilometres from the centre of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

The spacecraft is scheduled to orbit Bennu through mid-February at a leisurely 62 hours per orbit.

The December 31 manoeuvre to place the spacecraft into orbit about Bennu is the first of many exciting navigation activities planned for the mission.

The OSIRIS-REx team will resume science operations in late February.

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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.

During the summer of 2020, the spacecraft will briefly touch the surface of Bennu to retrieve a sample.

The OSIRIS-REx mission is scheduled to deliver the sample to Earth in September 2023. (IANS)

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NASA Probe Makes New Discoveries on Asteroid Bennu

As a result, Bennu's rotation period is decreasing by about a second every 100 years, the scientists explained

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Asteroid
This Nov. 16, 2018, image provide by NASA shows the asteroid Bennu. NASA

NASA’s first asteroid-sampling mission OSIRIS-REx has observed particle plumes erupting from the surface of Bennu, an asteroid the size of the pyramid at Giza.

The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft, which began orbiting Bennu on December 31, first discovered the particle plumes on January 6, followed by additional particle plumes over the last two months.

While some of the particles were slow-moving, the others were found orbiting Bennu, like small satellites.

Bennu’s entire surface was also found to be rough and dense with boulders, contrary to the Earth-based observations, which showed a smooth surface with a few large boulders.

This means that the sample collection part of the mission will have to be adjusted to make sure that OSIRIS-REx can touch down and collect a sample, said NASA while presenting the discoveries at the 50th Lunar and Planetary Conference in Houston.

“The discovery of plumes is one of the biggest surprises of my scientific career,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

NASA
This artist’s rendering made available by NASA in July 2016 shows the mapping of the near-Earth asteroid Bennu by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. VOA

“And the rugged terrain went against all of our predictions. Bennu is already surprising us, and our exciting journey there is just getting started,” Lauretta added.

Further, the team observed a change in the spin rate of Bennu as a result of what is known as the Yarkovsky-O’Keefe-Radzievskii-Paddack (YORP) effect.

The uneven heating and cooling of Bennu as it rotates in sunlight is causing the asteroid to increase its rotation speed.

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As a result, Bennu’s rotation period is decreasing by about a second every 100 years, the scientists explained.

OSIRIS-REx launched in 2016 to explore Bennu, the smallest body ever orbited by spacecraft, is expected to return a sample of the asteroid to Earth in 2023.

The findings will allow researchers to learn more about the origins of our solar system, the sources of water and organic molecules on Earth, the resources in near-Earth space, as well as improve our understanding of asteroids that could impact Earth. (IANS)