Monday, 25 March, 2019

Space probe Osiris-Rex makes closest ever orbit around smallest object

This file mosaic image composed of 12 Poly Cam images collected on Dec. 2 2018 and provided by NASA shows the asteroid Bennu OSIRIS-REx probe goes into close orbit around asteroid Bennu and sets a record
Cary Marshall | 01 January, 2019, 22:07

NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft today maneuvered into an orbit that takes it within 4,000 feet of the surface of Bennu, a diamond-shaped asteroid that's 70 million miles from Earth.

In addition, OSIRIS-REx now holds the record for the closest orbit, seeing as it's now flying above the asteroid at around a mile from its surface.

The Osiris-Rex spacecraft has gone into orbit around asteroid Bennu.

"Entering orbit around Bennu is an fantastic accomplishment that our team has been planning for years", said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

"Entering orbit around Bennu is an incredible accomplishment that our team has been planning for years", Lauretta said in a news release.

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Such work was required before attempting orbital insertion because "maneuvering around a small body that basically has no gravity is a very challenging endeavor", OSIRIS-REx Deputy Principal Investigator Heather Enos, also of the University of Arizona, told Space.com earlier this month.

It's the smallest celestial body ever to be orbited by a spacecraft.

On Monday, after closely studying the asteroid for several weeks, the spaceship fired its thrusters to bring it into orbit around Bennu at 2:43 pm (1943 GMT). The goal is to descend to the surface and collect samples of regolith - loose rock and dust - for return to Earth in 2023. The mission's objectives include characterizing the composition of the asteroid to shed more light on the makeup of the solar system's primordial material; identifying resources that could be useful to future space travelers; and helping scientists figure out how to divert a potentially threatening asteroid if necessary.

"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 said.

Bennu has a gravity force only five-millionths as strong as Earth's, NASA said.

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