Monday September 23, 2019
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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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Scientists Analysing Images Taken by NASA of Vikram Moon Lander

Therefore, it could be difficult to identify right now (and it) may be a little longer before we have another opportunity

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Scientists, Images, NASA
But he added, "It is important to remember that the illumination conditions right now where the lander may be are harsh." Pixabay

Scientists are analysing the images taken under harsh light conditions by the NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) Camera of the area where the Vikram moon lander is likely to have touched down on the moon and it may be a while before they can locate it, project experts told IANS.

LRO project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Noah Petro, said on Wednesday that they were now analysing the images taken on Tuesday “and we will make a statement at some point when we can identify the lander.”

But he added, “It is important to remember that the illumination conditions right now where the lander may be are harsh.”

Therefore, it “could be difficult to identify right now (and it) may be a little longer before we have another opportunity to image the landing site next October 14” when the LRO next passes over that area of the moon.

Scientists, Images, NASA
Scientists are analysing the images taken under harsh light conditions by the NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) Camera of the area. Pixabay

The principal investigator for the LRO camera, Mark Robinson of Arizona State University, said that the last image of the area was acquired on Wednesday and will take time to analyse as there are “lots and lots and lots of pixels” to go through.

A NASA statement carried a note of caution saying that when the LRO flew over the Vikram landing the “local lunar time was near dusk; large shadows covered much of the area.”

The LROC “acquired images around the targeted landing site, but the exact location of the lander was not known so the lander may not be in the camera field of view,” NASA said.

“The LROC team will analyze these new images and compare them to previous images to see if the lander is visible (it may be in shadow or outside the imaged area),” it added.

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Vikram lost contact with the Indian Space Research Organisation after it was launched by the Chandraayan 2 moon orbiter to touch down in the area of the moon’s south pole on September 6.

After following the intended trajectory, it deviated in the final moments during the last two kilometres of the descent and went silent.

Vikram carried a rover called Pragyan that was to have conducted experiments on the moon’s surface.

Aviation Week created some confusion on Wednesday with an erroneous headline, “NASA’s LRO fails to spot Chandraayan 2 Lander,” which was picked up by others.

Scientists, Images, NASA
LRO project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Noah Petro, said on Wednesday that they were now analysing the images taken on Tuesday “and we will make a statement at some point . Pixabay

Both the scientists IANS spoke to said the headline was wrong.

Robinson said: “They are rather astonishing because we haven’t had the images to look at yet. I don’t know where that came from.”

Petro said, “The headline is wrong. That was actually posted even before we had the data on the ground.”

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The publication later changed the headline to “NASA’s LRO Begins Search For Silent Chandrayaan-2 Lander.” (IANS)