The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is conducting a final flyby of the asteroid Bennu on Wednesday.
The spacecraft made historical past when it briefly touched down on the asteroid on October 20, 2020, and accumulating a hefty 2-ounce pattern from the floor.
The pattern, safely tucked contained in the spacecraft, will likely be returned to Earth in 2023.
The OSIRIS-REx mission, formally referred to as the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer, first arrived on the asteroid in December 2018 and has been orbiting it ever since.
During Wednesday’s flyby, the spacecraft will get one final close-up of Bennu, capturing photos of the asteroid’s floor from simply 2.3 miles away. The photos ought to reveal the aftermath of the pattern assortment occasion in October, which was a messy affair.
The asteroid’s floor was disturbed when OSIRIS-REx’s sampling head sank 1.6 toes down into the floor of the asteroid. It fired a cost containing nitrogen fuel to disturb floor materials to make pattern assortment slightly simpler. The thrusters on the spacecraft additionally launched materials within the air because the spacecraft backed away from the asteroid after accumulating the pattern.
The gravity on the asteroid is weak, so rocks and dirt have been launched and scattered all through the method.
Images captured by the spacecraft Wednesday will present scientists simply how a lot the pattern assortment occasion altered the floor of the asteroid. The spacecraft will spend practically six hours imaging Bennu, which can enable its cameras to see the asteroid full a full rotation.
The route of this flyby is acquainted for OSIRIS-REx, which carried out an analogous one whereas trying to find a touchdown web site throughout surveys in 2019. Those photos from 2019 will likely be used with the brand new photos to create earlier than and after comparisons.
During the flyby, OSIRIS-REx’s devices will acquire knowledge, permitting the mission crew an opportunity to evaluate them after the instruments have been coated in mud in the course of the assortment occasion. The spacecraft might go on an prolonged mission after dropping off Bennu’s pattern at Earth in September 2023, so this analysis can assist groups make that dedication.
Days after the flyby, the entire photos and knowledge will likely be despatched again to the mission groups to allow them to analyze the adjustments to Bennu and consider the spacecraft’s devices.
OSIRIS-REx will hand around in the world round Bennu till May 10, then it’s going to start a two-year and 200-million-mile journey again to Earth.
“Leaving Bennu’s vicinity in May puts us in the ‘sweet spot,’ when the departure maneuver will consume the least amount of the spacecraft’s onboard fuel,” mentioned Michael Moreau, OSIRIS-REx deputy undertaking supervisor at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, in a press release.
“Nevertheless, with over 593 miles per hour (265 meters per second) of velocity change, this will be the largest propulsive maneuver conducted by OSIRIS-REx since the approach to Bennu in October 2018.”
The pattern from the asteroid may shed extra mild on the formation of the photo voltaic system and the way components like water might have been delivered to early Earth by impacts from asteroids.
Once OSIRIS-REx approaches Earth in 2023, it’s going to jettison the capsule containing the pattern, which can shoot by Earth’s ambiance and parachute down into the Utah desert.
A crew will likely be able to retrieve the pattern and switch it to an plane hangar that can function a brief clear room. The pattern will then be whisked away to labs which might be presently beneath building at Johnson Space Center in Houston.
“OSIRIS-REx has already provided incredible science,” mentioned Lori Glaze, NASA’s director of planetary science, in a press release. “We’re really excited the mission is planning one more observation flyby of asteroid Bennu to provide new information about how the asteroid responded to (the Touch-and-Go Sample Collection event) and to render a proper farewell.”