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NASA’s OSIRIS-REx completes final tour of asteroid Bennu 180,000,000 miles back to Earth

The latest observation of NASA's OSIRIS-REx asteroids

The concept of this artist shows the planned trajectory of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft during its last flight on the asteroid Bennu, which is scheduled for April 7. Credit: ASA / Goddard / University of Arizona

NASA‘s OSIRIS-REx completed his last Bennu overflight around 6 a.m. EDT (4 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 Bennu’s surface when it took a sample of the asteroid.

The OSIRIS-REx team added this overflight to document surface changes as a result of the Touch and Go (TAG) maneuver on 20 October 2020, the nature of the surface and subsoil materials, together with the mechanical properties of the asteroid. said Dr. Dante Laureta, principal investigator of OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona.

Top-down view of the asteroid Bennu

This image shows a top-down view of the asteroid Bennu, with an illuminated part of the equatorial ridge and the northern hemisphere of the asteroid. It was captured by the PolyCam camera of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on March 4, 2021, from a distance of about 300 miles (186 miles). The spacecraft’s cameras are aimed directly at Bennu’s north pole. Two large equatorial craters can be seen at the edge of the asteroid (center and left to left). The image was taken during the post-TAG phase of operations as the spacecraft slowly approached Bennu, preparing for the last observation flight on April 7. Credit: NASA / Goddard / University of Arizona

During the flight, OSIRIS-REx depicted Bennu in 5.9 hours, covering more than the full rotation of the asteroid. It flies a distance of 3.5 kilometers to the surface of Bennu – the closest to the moment since the collection of samples from TAG.

At least until April 13, OSIRIS-REx will download all data and new photos of Bennu’s surface recorded during the flight. He shares the Deep Space Network antennas with other missions such as Mars Perseverance,, and usually gets 4-6 hours of time down the connection per day. “We collected about 4,000 megabytes of data during the flight,” said Mike Moreau, deputy project manager for OSIRIS-REx at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Bennu is about 185 million miles from Earth at the moment, which means we can only reach a data rate of 412 kilobits per second, so it will take a few days to download all the flight data.

Departure of OSIRIS-REx Bennu

NASA invites the public to watch OSIRIS-REx depart from Benu on NASA.gov and NASA TV on May 10, 2021, at 4:00 PM EDT.

Once the mission team has received the images and other data from the instrument, they will investigate how OSIRIS-REx shuffled the surface of Bennu. During a touchdown, the spacecraft’s test head sank 1.6 feet (48.8 centimeters) into the asteroid’s surface and simultaneously fired nitrogen gas under pressure. The spacecraft’s engines kicked a large amount of surface material during the combustion backwards – firing rocks and dust in the process.

OSIRIS-REx,, with its pristine and valuable asteroid cargo, will remain in the vicinity of Bennu until May 10, when it will launch its pushers and begin its two-year cruise home. The mission will deliver a sample of the asteroid to Earth on September 24, 2023.

KinetX Flight Navigator Leilah McCarthy

KinetX Flight Navigator Leilah McCarthy is processing navigation images to help direct NASA OSIRIS-REx’s final flight to the asteroid Bennu near Earth. Credit: KinetX Inc./Coralie Adam

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, provides comprehensive mission management, systems engineering and security, and mission support for OSIRIS-REx (Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security – Regolith Explorer). Dante Laureta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is the principal investigator, and the University of Arizona also leads the research team and the planning and processing of mission data. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the spacecraft and provided 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, operated by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the agency’s scientific mission directorate in Washington.

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