1. Asteroids Bennu and Ryugu May Have Formed Directly From Collision in Space

    June 1, 2020 -

    Scientists with NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission, OSIRIS-REx, are gaining a new understanding of asteroid Bennu’s carbon-rich material and signature “spinning-top” shape. The team, led by the University of Arizona, has discovered that the asteroid’s shape and hydration levels provide clues to the origins and histories of this and other small bodies.

    Illustrating what scientists argue in the paper, this animation demonstrates how top-shape asteroids may have formed. This simulation shows the gravitational reaccumulation of an asteroid parent body (center) following its catastrophic disruption by an impact. The movie begins with a change in perspective to display the initial geometry of the impacted 100-km asteroid, followed by the dispersal of fragments to form separate rubble-pile asteroids. The color of each particle indicates the change in its temperature after impact, with blue being no change and dark red indicated a change of 1000 Kelvin.

    Bennu, the target asteroid for the OSIRIS-REx mission, and Ryugu, the target of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Hayabusa2 asteroid sample return mission, are composed of fragments of larger bodies that shattered upon colliding with other objects. The small fragments reaccumulated to form an aggregate body. Bennu and Ryugu may actually have formed in this way from the same original shattered parent body. Now, scientists are looking to discover what processes led to specific characteristics of these asteroids, such as their shape and mineralogy.

    Bennu and Ryugu are both classified as “spinning-top” asteroids, which means they have a pronounced equatorial ridge. Until now, scientists thought that this shape formed as the result of thermal forces, called the YORP effect. The YORP effect increases the speed of the asteroid’s spin, and over millions of years, material near the poles could have migrated to accumulate on the equator, eventually forming a spinning-top shape – meaning that the shape would have formed relatively recently.

    However, in a new paper published in Nature Communications, scientists from the OSIRIS-REx and Hayabusa2 teams argue that the YORP effect may not explain the shape of either Bennu or Ryugu. Both asteroids have large impact craters on their equators, and their size suggests that these craters are some of Bennu’s oldest surface features. Since the craters cover the equatorial ridges, their spinning-top shapes must also have been formed much earlier.

    “Using computer simulations that model the impact that broke up Bennu’s parent body, we show that these asteroids either formed directly as top-shapes, or achieved the shape early after their formation in the main asteroid belt,” said Ronald Ballouz, co-lead author and OSIRIS-REx postdoctoral research associate at the UArizona. “The presence of the large equatorial craters on these asteroids, as seen in images returned by the spacecraft, rules out that the asteroids experienced a recent re-shaping due to the YORP effect. We would expect these craters to have disappeared with a recent YORP-induced re-shaping of the asteroid.”

    In addition to their shapes, Bennu and Ryugu also both contain water-bearing surface material in the form of clay minerals. Ryugu’s surface material is less water-rich than Bennu’s, which implies that Ryugu’s material experienced more heating at some point.

    This image shows asteroid Bennu’s spinning top shape. It was taken by the MapCam camera on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on April 29, from a distance of 5 miles (8 km). From the spacecraft’s vantage point, half of Bennu is sunlit and half is in shadow. The asteroid is 1,673 ft (510 m) in height – a bit taller than the Empire State Building.

    Assuming Bennu and Ryugu formed simultaneously, the paper explores two possible explanations for the different hydration levels of the two bodies based on the team’s computer simulations. One hypothesis suggests that when the parent asteroid was disrupted, Bennu formed from material closer to the original surface, while Ryugu contained more material from near the parent body’s original center. Another possible explanation for the difference in hydration levels is that the fragments experienced different levels of heating during the parent asteroid’s disruption. If this is the case, Ryugu’s source material is likely from an area near the impact point, where temperatures were higher. Bennu’s material would have come from a region that didn’t undergo as much heating, and was likely farther from the point of impact. Analysis of the returned samples and further observational analysis of the asteroids’ surfaces will provide a clearer idea of the possible shared history of the two asteroids.

    “These simulations provide valuable new insights into how Bennu and Ryugu formed,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator and UArizona professor of planetary sciences. “Once we have the returned samples of these two asteroids in the lab, we may be able to further confirm these models, possibly revealing the true relationship between the two asteroids.”

    Scientists anticipate that the samples will also provide new insights into the origins, formation and evolution of other carbonaceous asteroids and meteorites. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Hayabusa2 mission is currently making its way back to Earth, and is scheduled to deliver its samples of Ryugu late this year. The OSIRIS-REx mission will perform its first sample collection attempt at Bennu on Oct. 20 and will deliver its samples to Earth on Sep. 24, 2023.

    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, provides overall mission management, systems engineering, and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is the principal investigator, and the University of Arizona also leads the science team and the mission’s science observation planning and data processing. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the spacecraft and provides 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, which is managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

  2. OSIRIS-REx Performs Closest Flyover of Sample Site Osprey

    May 27, 2020 -

    NASA’s first asteroid-sampling spacecraft has had another close encounter with asteroid Bennu. Yesterday, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft executed its lowest pass yet over sample site Osprey, taking observations from an altitude of 820 feet (250 m). Osprey, OSIRIS-REx’s backup sample collection site, is located within a crater just north of Bennu’s equator.

    To perform the five-hour flyover, the spacecraft left its 0.6-mile (1-km) counterclockwise orbit (as viewed from the Sun) and aimed its science instruments toward the 52-ft (16-m) wide site. The science observations from this pass are the closest taken of Osprey to date. In March, the spacecraft executed a similar pass over primary sample site Nightingale.

    A primary goal of the low flyover was to collect high-resolution imagery of the site’s surface material. The spacecraft’s sample collection mechanism is designed to pick up rocks smaller than 0.8 inches (2 cm), and the detailed PolyCam images from yesterday’s low pass will allow the team to identify rocks of this size.

    The flyover also provided the opportunity to capture images for the Natural Feature Tracking (NFT) image catalog for site Osprey – documenting the site’s surface features. If the mission decides to collect a sample from backup site Osprey, the spacecraft will use this NFT image catalog to autonomously navigate down to Bennu’s surface. The mission originally planned to collect this imagery during a 0.4-mile (620-m) flyover in February, but the images from that pass are out of focus due to an anomaly in the low energy laser transmitter (LELT) subsystem with the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA), which was providing range measurements to focus PolyCam. OLA’s high energy laser transmitter (HELT) was used in this most recent Osprey flyover, as was done in a similar flyover of the Nightingale site.

    Several of the spacecraft’s other instruments also took observations of the Osprey site during the flyover event, including the OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emissions Spectrometer (OTES), the OSIRIS-REx Visual and InfraRed Spectrometer (OVIRS), and the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA).

    After completing the pass, OSIRIS-REx returned to its safe-home orbit and is now circling Bennu clockwise. The spacecraft normally orbits Bennu counterclockwise, but this shift in orbital direction was necessary to position the spacecraft for its next close encounter with the asteroid – the second rehearsal for the sample collection event.

    The mission successfully executed the first sample-collection rehearsal on Apr. 14, completing a practice run of some of the activities leading up to the sampling event and bringing the spacecraft 213 ft (65 m) from the asteroid’s surface. The second rehearsal, scheduled for Aug. 11, will bring the spacecraft through the first three maneuvers of the sample collection sequence to an approximate altitude of 131 ft (40 m) over the surface of Bennu.

    The spacecraft will attempt to venture all the way to the asteroid’s surface on Oct. 20, for its first attempt to collect a sample from site Nightingale. During this event, OSIRIS-REx’s sampling mechanism will touch Bennu and fire a charge of pressurized nitrogen to disturb the surface and collect its sample before the spacecraft backs away.

    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, provides overall mission management, systems engineering, and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is the principal investigator, and the University of Arizona also leads the science team and the mission’s science observation planning and data processing. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the spacecraft and provides 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, which is managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

  3. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Ready for Touchdown on Asteroid Bennu

    May 20, 2020 -

    NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission is officially prepared for its long-awaited touchdown on asteroid Bennu’s surface. The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security – Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission has targeted Oct. 20 for its first sample collection attempt.

    This artist’s concept shows NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft descending towards asteroid Bennu to collect a sample of the asteroid’s surface. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    “The OSIRIS-REx mission has been demonstrating the very essence of exploration by persevering through unexpected challenges,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for science. “That spirit has led them to the cusp of the prize we all are waiting for – securing a sample of an asteroid to bring home to Earth, and I’m very excited to follow them through the home stretch.”

    From discovering Bennu’s surprisingly rugged and active surface, to entering the closest-ever orbit around a planetary body, OSIRIS-REx has overcome several challenges since arriving at the asteroid in December 2018. Last month, the mission brought the spacecraft 213 ft (65 m) from the asteroid’s surface during its first sample collection rehearsal — successfully completing a practice run of the activities leading up to the sampling event.

    Now that the mission is ready to collect a sample, the team is facing a different kind of challenge here on Earth. In response to COVID-19 constraints and after the intense preparation for the first rehearsal, the OSIRIS-REx mission has decided to provide its team with additional preparation time for both the final rehearsal and the sample collection event. Spacecraft activities require significant lead time for the development and testing of operations, and given the current requirements that limit in-person participation at the mission support area, the mission would benefit from giving the team additional time to complete these preparations in the new environment. As a result, both the second rehearsal and first sample collection attempt will have two extra months for planning.

    “In planning the mission, we included robust schedule margin while at Bennu to provide the flexibility to address unexpected challenges,” said Rich Burns, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “This flexibility has allowed us to adapt to the surprises that Bennu has thrown at us. It’s now time to prioritize the health and safety of both team members and the spacecraft.”

    The mission had originally planned to perform the first Touch-and-Go (TAG) sample collection event on Aug. 25 after completing a second rehearsal in June. This rehearsal, now scheduled for Aug. 11, will bring the spacecraft through the first three maneuvers of the sample collection sequence to an approximate altitude of 131 ft (40 m) over the surface of Bennu. The first sample collection attempt is now scheduled for Oct. 20, during which the spacecraft will descend to Bennu’s surface and collect material from sample site Nightingale.

    “This mission’s incredible performance so far is a testament to the extraordinary skill and dedication of the OSIRIS-REx team,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “I am confident that even in the face of the current challenge, this team will be successful in collecting our sample from Bennu.”

    During the TAG event, OSIRIS-REx’s sampling mechanism will touch Bennu’s surface for approximately five seconds, fire a charge of pressurized nitrogen to disturb the surface, and collect a sample before the spacecraft backs away. The mission has resources onboard for three sample collection opportunities. If the spacecraft successfully collects a sufficient sample on Oct. 20, no additional sampling attempts will be made. The spacecraft is scheduled to depart Bennu in mid-2021, and will return the sample to Earth on Sept. 24, 2023.

    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, provides overall mission management, systems engineering, and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is the principal investigator, and the University of Arizona also leads the science team and the mission’s science observation planning and data processing. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the spacecraft and provides 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, which is managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

  4. One Step Closer to Touching Asteroid Bennu

    April 15, 2020 -

    After the successful completion of its “Checkpoint” rehearsal, NASA’s first asteroid-sampling spacecraft is one step closer to touching down on asteroid Bennu. Yesterday, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft performed the first practice run of its sample collection sequence, reaching an approximate altitude of 246 feet (75 meters) over site Nightingale before executing a back-away burn from the asteroid. Nightingale, OSIRIS-REx’s primary sample collection site, is located within a crater in Bennu’s northern hemisphere.

    This artist’s concept shows the trajectory and configuration of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft during Checkpoint rehearsal, which was the first time the mission practiced the initial steps of collecting a sample from asteroid Bennu. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    The four-hour Checkpoint rehearsal took the spacecraft through the first two of the sampling sequence’s four maneuvers: the orbit departure burn and the Checkpoint burn. Checkpoint is so named because it is the location where the spacecraft autonomously checks its position and velocity before adjusting its trajectory down toward the location of the event’s third maneuver.

    Four hours after departing its 0.6-mile (1-km) safe-home orbit, the spacecraft performed the Checkpoint maneuver at an approximate altitude of 410 feet (125 meters) above Bennu’s surface. From there, the spacecraft continued to descend for another nine minutes on a trajectory toward – but not reaching – the location of the sampling event’s third maneuver, the “Matchpoint” burn. Upon reaching an altitude of approximately 246 ft (75 m) – the closest the spacecraft has ever been to Bennu – OSIRIS-REx performed a back-away burn to complete the rehearsal.

    During the rehearsal, the spacecraft successfully deployed its sampling arm, the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM), from its folded, parked position out to the sample collection configuration. Additionally, some of the spacecraft’s instruments collected science and navigation images and made spectrometry observations of the sample site, as will occur during the sample collection event.

    This first rehearsal provided the mission team with practice navigating the spacecraft through both the orbit departure and Checkpoint maneuvers and with an opportunity to verify that the spacecraft’s imaging, navigation and ranging systems operated as expected during the first part of the descent sequence. Checkpoint rehearsal also gave the team confirmation that OSIRIS-REx’s Natural Feature Tracking (NFT) guidance system accurately estimated the spacecraft’s position and speed relative to Bennu as it descended toward the surface.

    The mission team has maximized remote work over the last month of preparations for the Checkpoint rehearsal, as part of the COVID-19 response. On the day of rehearsal, a limited number of personnel monitored the spacecraft’s telemetry from Lockheed Martin Space’s facility, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and the University of Arizona, taking appropriate safety precautions, while the rest of the team performed their roles remotely.

    “This rehearsal let us verify flight system performance during the descent, particularly the autonomous update and execution of the Checkpoint burn,” said Rich Burns, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Executing this monumental milestone during this time of national crisis is a testament to the professionalism and focus of our team. It speaks volumes about their ‘can-do’ attitude and hopefully will serve as a bit of good news in these challenging times.”

    The spacecraft will travel all the way to the asteroid’s surface during its first sample collection attempt, scheduled for Aug. 25. During this event, OSIRIS-REx’s sampling mechanism will touch Bennu’s surface for approximately five seconds, fire a charge of pressurized nitrogen to disturb the surface and collect a sample before the spacecraft backs away. The spacecraft is scheduled to return the sample to Earth on Sept. 24, 2023.

    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, provides overall mission management, systems engineering, and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is the principal investigator, and the University of Arizona also leads the science team and the mission’s science observation planning and data processing. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the spacecraft and provides 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, which is managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

  5. Rehearsal Time for NASA’s Asteroid Sampling Spacecraft

    April 9, 2020 -

    In August, a robotic spacecraft will make NASA’s first-ever attempt to descend to the surface of an asteroid, collect a sample, and ultimately bring it safely back to Earth. In order to achieve this challenging feat, the OSIRIS-REx mission team devised new techniques to operate in asteroid Bennu’s microgravity environment – but they still need experience flying the spacecraft in close proximity to the asteroid in order to test them. So, before touching down at sample site Nightingale this summer, OSIRIS-REx will first rehearse the activities leading up to the event.

    This artist’s concept shows the trajectory and configuration of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft during Checkpoint rehearsal, which is the first time the mission will practice the initial steps for collecting a sample from asteroid Bennu. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    On Apr. 14, the mission will pursue its first practice run – officially known as “Checkpoint” rehearsal – which will also place the spacecraft the closest it’s ever been to Bennu. This rehearsal is a chance for the OSIRIS-REx team and spacecraft to test the first steps of the robotic sample collection event.

    During the full touchdown sequence, the spacecraft uses three separate thruster firings to make its way to the asteroid’s surface. After an orbit departure burn, the spacecraft executes the Checkpoint maneuver at 410 ft (125 m) above Bennu, which adjusts the spacecraft’s position and speed down toward the point of the third burn. This third maneuver, called “Matchpoint,” occurs at approximately 164 ft (50 m) from the asteroid’s surface and places the spacecraft on a trajectory that matches the rotation of Bennu as it further descends toward the targeted touchdown spot.

    The Checkpoint rehearsal allows the team to practice navigating the spacecraft through both the orbit departure and Checkpoint maneuvers, and ensures that the spacecraft’s imaging, navigation and ranging systems operate as expected during the first part of the descent sequence. Checkpoint rehearsal also gives the team a chance to confirm that OSIRIS-REx’s Natural Feature Tracking (NFT) guidance system accurately updates the spacecraft’s position and velocity relative to Bennu as it descends towards the surface.

    Checkpoint rehearsal, a four-hour event, begins with the spacecraft leaving its safe-home orbit, 0.6 miles (1 km) above the asteroid. The spacecraft then extends its robotic sampling arm – the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) – from its folded, parked position out to the sample collection configuration. Immediately following, the spacecraft slews, or rotates, into position to begin collecting navigation images for NFT guidance. NFT allows the spacecraft to autonomously guide itself to Bennu’s surface by comparing an onboard image catalog with the real-time navigation images taken during descent. As the spacecraft descends to the surface, the NFT system updates the spacecraft’s predicted point of contact depending on OSIRIS-REx’s position in relation to Bennu’s landmarks.

    Before reaching the 410-ft (125-m) Checkpoint altitude, the spacecraft’s solar arrays move into a “Y-wing” configuration that safely positions them away from the asteroid’s surface. This configuration also places the spacecraft’s center of gravity directly over the TAGSAM collector head, which is the only part of the spacecraft that will contact Bennu’s surface during the sample collection event.

    In the midst of these activities, the spacecraft continues capturing images of Bennu’s surface for the NFT navigation system. The spacecraft will then perform the Checkpoint burn and descend toward Bennu’s surface for another nine minutes, placing the spacecraft around 243 ft (75 m) from the asteroid – the closest it has ever been.

    Upon reaching this targeted point, the spacecraft will execute a back-away burn, then return its solar arrays to their original position and reconfigure the TAGSAM arm back to the parked position. Once the mission team determines that the spacecraft successfully completed the entire rehearsal sequence, they will command the spacecraft to return to its safe-home orbit around Bennu.

    Following the Checkpoint rehearsal, the team will verify the flight system’s performance during the descent, and that the Checkpoint burn accurately adjusted the descent trajectory for the subsequent Matchpoint burn.

    The mission team has maximized remote work over the last month of preparations for the checkpoint rehearsal, as part of the COVID-19 response. On the day of rehearsal, a limited number of personnel will command the spacecraft from Lockheed Martin Space’s facility, taking appropriate safety precautions, while the rest of the team performs their roles remotely.

    The mission is scheduled to perform a second rehearsal on Jun. 23, taking the spacecraft through the Matchpoint burn and down to an approximate altitude of 82 ft (25 m). OSIRIS-REx’s first sample collection attempt is scheduled for Aug. 25.

    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland provides overall mission management, systems engineering, and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is the principal investigator, and the University of Arizona also leads the science team and the mission’s science observation planning and data processing. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the spacecraft and is providing 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, which is managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

  6. Bennu’s Boulders Shine as Beacons for NASA’s OSIRIS-REx

    March 9, 2020 -

    This summer, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will undertake NASA’s first-ever attempt to touch the surface of an asteroid, collect a sample of it, and safely back away. But since arriving at asteroid Bennu over a year ago, the mission team has been tackling an unexpected challenge: how to accomplish this feat at an asteroid whose surface is blanketed in building-sized boulders.

    During the sample collection event, Natural Feature Tracking (NFT) will guide NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to asteroid Bennu’s surface. The spacecraft takes real-time images of the asteroid’s surface features as it descends, and then compares these images with an onboard image catalog. The spacecraft then uses these geographical markers to orient itself and accurately target the touchdown site. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    Using these hazardous boulders as signposts, the mission team developed a new precision navigation method to overcome the challenge.

    The OSIRIS-REx team had originally planned to use a LIDAR system to navigate to Bennu’s surface during the Touch-And-Go (TAG) sample collection event. LIDAR is similar to radar, but it uses laser pulses rather than radio waves to measure distance. The OSIRIS-REx Guidance, Navigation, and Control (GNC) LIDAR is designed to navigate the spacecraft to a relatively hazard-free surface. The mission had originally envisioned a touchdown site 164 ft (50 meters) in diameter, but the largest safe areas on Bennu are much smaller. The biggest site is just 52 ft (16 m) wide, or roughly 10% of the safe area envisioned. The team realized that they needed a more precise navigation technique that would allow the spacecraft to accurately target very small sites while dodging potential hazards.

    In the face of this challenge, the OSIRIS-REx team switched to a new navigation method called Natural Feature Tracking (NFT). NFT provides more extensive navigation capabilities than LIDAR, and is key for executing what the team is calling “Bullseye TAG,” which delivers the spacecraft to the much smaller sampling area. As an optical navigation technique, it requires the creation of a high-resolution image catalog onboard the spacecraft.

    Earlier this year, the spacecraft made reconnaissance passes over the mission’s primary and backup sample collection sites, designated Nightingale and Osprey, flying as close as 0.4 miles (625 m) over the surface. During these flyovers, the spacecraft collected images from different angles and lighting conditions to complete the NFT image catalog. The team uses this catalog to identify boulders and craters unique to the sample site region, and will upload this information to the spacecraft before the sample collection event. NFT autonomously guides the spacecraft to Bennu’s surface by comparing the onboard image catalog with the real-time navigation images taken during descent. As the spacecraft descends to the surface, NFT updates its predicted point of contact depending on the spacecraft’s position in relation to the landmarks.

    On the ground, team members created “hazard maps” for both the Nightingale and Osprey sites to document all of the surface features that could potentially harm the spacecraft, like large rocks or steep slopes. The team used the image catalog in conjunction with data from the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA) to create 3D maps that closely model Bennu’s topography. As part of NFT, these maps document boulder heights and crater depths, and guide the spacecraft away from potential hazards while targeting a very small site. During descent, if the spacecraft predicts it will touch unsafe terrain, it will autonomously wave-off and back away from the surface. However, if it sees that the area is free of hazards, it will continue to descend and attempt to collect a sample.

    During sample collection, Natural Feature Tracking (NFT) will guide NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to asteroid Bennu’s surface. Hazard maps are also part of the NFT guidance system – they document boulder heights and crater depths, and guide the spacecraft away from potential hazards. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    NFT will be used in April to navigate the spacecraft during its first sample collection rehearsal. The operations team performed preliminary testing during the Orbital B mission phase in late 2019, and the results demonstrated that NFT works in real-life conditions as designed. NFT will also be used for navigation during the second rehearsal planned for June.

    OSIRIS-REx’s first sample collection attempt is scheduled for late August. The spacecraft will depart Bennu in 2021 and is scheduled to deliver the sample to Earth in September 2023.

    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, provides overall mission management, systems engineering, and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is the principal investigator, and the University of Arizona also leads the science team and the mission’s science observation planning and data processing. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the spacecraft and provides 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, which is managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

  7. First Official Names Given to Features on Asteroid Bennu

    March 6, 2020 -

    Asteroid Bennu’s most prominent boulder, a rock chunk jutting out 71 ft (21.7 m) from the asteroid’s southern hemisphere, finally has a name. The boulder – which is so large that it was initially detected from Earth – is officially designated Benben Saxum after the primordial hill that first arose from the dark waters in an ancient Egyptian creation myth.

    This flat projection mosaic of asteroid Bennu shows the locations of the first 12 surface features to receive official names from the International Astronomical Union. The accepted names were proposed by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx team members, who have been mapping the asteroid in detail over the last year. Bennu’s surface features are named after birds and bird-like creatures in mythology, and the places associated with them. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    Benben Saxum and 11 other features on the asteroid are the first to receive official Bennu feature names approved by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), the internationally recognized authority for naming celestial bodies and their surface features. The accepted names were proposed by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx team members, who have been mapping the asteroid in detail over the last year. The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission, is currently visiting the asteroid and is scheduled to collect a sample from Bennu’s surface this summer.

    “Since arriving at the asteroid, the OSIRIS-REx team has become incredibly familiar with all of the geological features on Bennu,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “These features are providing us with insight into Bennu’s history, and their new names symbolize the essence of the mission – studying the past to both discover our origins and understand our future,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

    The approved Bennu surface feature names are listed below. Bennu’s diverse terrain types – including regiones (broad geographic regions), craters, dorsa (ridges), fossae (grooves or trenches) and saxa (rocks and boulders) – will be named after birds and bird-like creatures in mythology, and the places associated with them.

     

    Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    Tlanuwa Regio is named for the giant birds who scattered the Earth with pieces of a serpent that turned into standing pillars of rocks in Cherokee mythology. Tlanuwa Regio is an area covered by large boulders in Bennu’s southern hemisphere.

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    Benben Saxum is named for an ancient Egyptian mound that arose from the primordial waters Nu. In Egyptian mythology, the god Atum settled upon Benben to create the world after his flight over the waters in the form of the Bennu bird. Benben Saxum is the tallest boulder on Bennu.

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    Roc Saxum is named for the Roc, an enormous bird of prey in Arabian mythology of the Middle East. Roc Saxum is the largest boulder feature on Bennu.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    Simurgh Saxum is named for the benevolent, mythological bird in Persian mythology. The Simurgh was said to possess all knowledge, and Simurgh Saxum defines the prime meridian on Bennu and is the basis for the asteroid’s coordinate system.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    Huginn Saxum and Muninn Saxum are adjacent boulders named for the two ravens, Huginn and Muninn, who accompany the god Odin in Norse mythology.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    Ocypete Saxum is named for one of the Greek harpies, the half-maiden and half-bird personification of storm winds that would snatch and carry things away from Earth. Ocypete Saxum is located near the origin of the Jan. 19, 2019, particle ejection event on Bennu.

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    Strix Saxum is named for the Strix bird of ill-omen from Roman mythology. Strix Saxum is a large boulder flanking the OSIRIS-REx mission’s backup sample collection site.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    Amihan Saxum is named for the Tagalog (Philippines) mythological deity, who is depicted as a bird and was the first creature to inhabit the universe. This large, flat boulder appears to be partly buried and is located in Tlanuwa Regio, which has an unusually high concentration of large boulders.

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    Pouakai Saxum is named for the monstrous bird who kills and eat humans in Māori (Polynesia) mythology. Pouakai Saxum is a 55 ft (10.6 m)-wide boulder located in Bennu’s southern hemisphere, slightly north of Benben Saxum.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    Aetos Saxum is named for the childhood playmate of the supreme god Zeus, who was turned into an eagle by Hera in Greek mythology. Aetos Saxum is a conspicuously flat boulder, with a general wing-like shape located near Bennu’s equator.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    Gargoyle Saxum is named for the French dragon-like monster with wings, bird-like neck, and the ability to breathe fire. Gargoyle Saxum is a large prominent boulder near the mission’s backup sample site that is one of the darkest objects on the surface.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland provides overall mission management, systems engineering, and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is the principal investigator, and the University of Arizona also leads the science team and the mission’s science observation planning and data processing. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the spacecraft and is providing 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, which is managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

  8. OSIRIS-REx Swoops Over Sample Site Nightingale

    March 4, 2020 -

    NASA’s first asteroid-sampling spacecraft just got its best look yet at asteroid Bennu. Yesterday, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft executed a very low pass over sample site Nightingale, taking observations from an altitude of 820 feet (250 m), which is the closest that OSIRIS-REx has flown over the asteroid so far. Nightingale, OSIRIS-REx’s primary sample collection site, is located within a crater in Bennu’s northern hemisphere.

    On Mar. 3, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft performed a low-altitude flyover of site Nightingale. During the pass, science observations of asteroid Bennu took place from a distance of approximately 820 ft (250 m) – the closest the spacecraft has ever been to the asteroid’s surface. Credit: University of Arizona

    To perform the 5-hour flyover, the spacecraft left its 0.6-mile (1-km) safe-home orbit and aimed its science instruments toward the 52-ft (16-m) wide sample site. The science observations from this pass are the closest taken of Bennu to date.

    The main goal of yesterday’s low flyover was to collect high-resolution imagery of the site’s surface material. The spacecraft’s sample collection mechanism is designed to pick up small rocks less than 0.8 inches (2 cm) in size, and the PolyCam images from this low pass are very detailed, allowing the team to identify and locate rocks of this size. Several of the spacecraft’s other instruments also took observations of the Nightingale site during the flyover event, including the OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emissions Spectrometer (OTES), the OSIRIS-REx Visual and InfraRed Spectrometer (OVIRS), the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA), and the MapCam color imager.

    After completing the flyover, the spacecraft returned to orbit – but for the first time, OSIRIS-REx reversed the direction of its safe-home orbit and is now circling Bennu clockwise (as viewed from the Sun). This shift in orbital direction positioned the spacecraft for its next close encounter with the asteroid – its first rehearsal for the sample collection event.

    This spring, the mission will perform two rehearsals in preparation for the sample collection event. The first rehearsal, scheduled for Apr. 14, navigates the spacecraft down to 410 feet (125 m) over Bennu’s surface. At this altitude, the spacecraft will execute the Checkpoint maneuver, designed to put the spacecraft on a descent trajectory toward the sample collection site on the surface. The spacecraft will stop its descent ten minutes later at an altitude of approximately 164 ft (50 m) by executing a maneuver to back away from the asteroid. The second rehearsal, scheduled for June, follows the same trajectory but takes the spacecraft to a lower altitude of 164 feet (50 m), where it will perform the Matchpoint maneuver, designed to slow the spacecraft’s descent rate. Subsequent to this burn the spacecraft will execute a back away maneuver between 131 ft (40 m) and 82 ft (25 m) from Bennu’s surface. The spacecraft will venture all the way to the asteroid’s surface in late August, for its first attempt to collect a sample. During this event, OSIRIS-REx’s sampling mechanism will touch Bennu’s surface and fire a charge of pressurized nitrogen to disturb the surface and collect its sample before the spacecraft backs away.

    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, provides overall mission management, systems engineering, and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is the principal investigator, and the University of Arizona also leads the science team and the mission’s science observation planning and data processing. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the spacecraft and provides 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, which is managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

  9. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Students Catch Unexpected Glimpse of Newly Discovered Black Hole

    February 28, 2020 -

    University students and researchers working on a NASA mission orbiting a near-Earth asteroid have made an unexpected detection of a phenomenon 30 thousand light years away. Last fall, the student-built Regolith X-Ray Imaging Spectrometer (REXIS) onboard NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft detected a newly flaring black hole in the constellation Columba while making observations off the limb of asteroid Bennu.

    This visualization simulates an X-ray outburst from the black hole MAXI J0637-043, detected by the REXIS instrument on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, as it moves through REXIS’s line of sight. At first, the outburst is visibly intense, but it gradually fades as it subsides. The animation was constructed using data collected by the X-ray spectrometer while REXIS was making observations of the space around asteroid Bennu on Nov. 11, 2019. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/MIT/Harvard

    REXIS, a shoebox-sized student instrument, was designed to measure the X-rays that Bennu emits in response to incoming solar radiation. X-rays are a form of electromagnetic radiation, like visible light, but with much higher energy. REXIS is a collaborative experiment led by students and researchers at MIT and Harvard, who proposed, built, and operate the instrument.

    On Nov. 11, 2019, while the REXIS instrument was performing detailed science observations of Bennu, it captured X-rays radiating from a point off the asteroid’s edge. “Our initial checks showed no previously cataloged object in that position in space,” said Branden Allen, a Harvard research scientist and student supervisor who first spotted the source in the REXIS data.

    The glowing object turned out to be a newly flaring black hole X-ray binary – discovered just a week earlier by Japan’s MAXI telescope – designated MAXI J0637-430. NASA’s Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) telescope also identified the X-ray blast a few days later. Both MAXI and NICER operate aboard NASA’s International Space Station and detected the X-ray event from low Earth orbit. REXIS, on the other hand, detected the same activity millions of miles from Earth while orbiting Bennu, the first such outburst ever detected from interplanetary space.

    “Detecting this X-ray burst is a proud moment for the REXIS team. It means our instrument is performing as expected and to the level required of NASA science instruments,” said Madeline Lambert, an MIT graduate student who designed the instrument’s command sequences that serendipitously revealed the black hole.

    X-ray blasts, like the one emitted from the newly discovered black hole, can only be observed from space since Earth’s protective atmosphere shields our planet from X-rays. These X-ray emissions occur when a black hole pulls in matter from a normal star that is in orbit around it. As the matter spirals onto a spinning disk surrounding the black hole, an enormous amount of energy (primarily in the form of X-rays) is released in the process.

    This image shows the X-ray outburst from the black hole MAXI J0637-043, detected by the REXIS instrument on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. The image was constructed using data collected by the X-ray spectrometer while REXIS was making observations of the space around asteroid Bennu on Nov. 11, 2019. The outburst is visible in the center of the image, and the image is overlaid with the limb of Bennu (lower right) to illustrate REXIS’s field of view. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/MIT/Harvard

    “We set out to train students how to build and operate space instruments,” said MIT professor Richard Binzel, instrument scientist for the REXIS student experiment. “It turns out, the greatest lesson is to always be open to discovering the unexpected.”

    The main purpose of the REXIS instrument is to prepare the next generation of scientists, engineers, and project managers in the development and operations of spaceflight hardware. Nearly 100 undergraduate and graduate students have worked on the REXIS team since the mission’s inception.

    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, provides overall mission management, systems engineering, and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is the principal investigator, and the University of Arizona also leads the science team and the mission’s science observation planning and data processing. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the spacecraft and provides 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, which is managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

  10. Status Update: OSIRIS-REx Osprey Flyover

    February 13, 2020 -

    On Feb. 11, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft safely executed a 0.4-mile (620-m) flyover of the backup sample collection site Osprey as part of the mission’s Reconnaissance B phase activities. Preliminary telemetry, however, indicates that the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA) did not operate as expected during the 11-hour event. The OLA instrument was scheduled to provide ranging data to the spacecraft’s PolyCam imager, which would allow the camera to focus while imaging the area around the sample collection site. Consequently, the PolyCam images from the flyover are likely out of focus.

    The other science instruments, including the MapCam imager, the OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emissions Spectrometer (OTES), and the OSIRIS-REx Visual and InfraRed Spectrometer (OVIRS), all performed nominally during the flyover. These instruments and the spacecraft continue in normal operations in orbit around asteroid Bennu.

    The mission team is currently reviewing the available data from the flyover in order to fully assess the OLA instrument. The entire data set from the flyover, including the PolyCam images, will be completely downlinked from the spacecraft next week and will provide additional insight into any impact that the loss of the OLA data may have.

    OLA has already completed all of its principal requirements for the OSIRIS-REx mission. OLA’s scans of Bennu’s surface were used to create the high-resolution 3D global maps of Bennu’s topography that were crucial for selecting the primary and backup sample collection sites last fall.

  11. OSIRIS-REx Completes Closest Flyover of Sample Site Nightingale

    January 22, 2020 -

    Preliminary results indicate that NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft successfully executed a 0.4-mile (620-m) flyover of site Nightingale yesterday as part of the mission’s Reconnaissance B phase activities. Nightingale, OSIRIS-REx’s primary sample collection site, is located within a crater high in asteroid Bennu’s northern hemisphere.

    During the Recon B flyover of primary sample collection site Nightingale, OSIRIS-REx left its safe-home orbit to fly over the sample site at an altitude of 0.4 miles (620 m). The pass, which took around 11 hours, gave the spacecraft’s onboard instruments the opportunity to take the closest-ever science observations of the site. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    To perform the pass, the spacecraft left its 0.75-mile (1.2-km) safe home orbit and flew an almost 11-hour transit over the asteroid, aiming its science instruments toward the 52-ft (16-m) wide sample site before returning to orbit. Science observations from this flyover are the closest taken of a sample site to date.

    The primary goal of the Nightingale flyover was to collect the high-resolution imagery required to complete the spacecraft’s Natural Feature Tracking image catalog, which will document the sample collection site’s surface features – such as boulders and craters. During the sampling event, which is scheduled for late August, the spacecraft will use this catalog to navigate with respect to Bennu’s surface features, allowing it to autonomously predict where on the sample site it will make contact . Several of the spacecraft’s other instruments also took observations of the Nightingale site during the flyover event, including the OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emissions Spectrometer (OTES), the OSIRIS-REx Visual and InfraRed Spectrometer (OVIRS), the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA), and the MapCam color imager.

    A similar flyover of the backup sample collection site, Osprey, is scheduled for Feb. 11. Even lower flybys will be performed later this spring – Mar. 3 for Nightingale and May 26 for Osprey – as part of the mission’s Reconnaissance C phase activities. The spacecraft will perform these two flyovers at an altitude of 820 feet (250 m), which will be the closest it has ever flown over asteroid Bennu’s surface.

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