1. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft Heads for Earth with Asteroid Sample

    May 12, 2021 -

    After nearly five years in space, NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft is on its way back to Earth with an abundance of rocks and dust from the near-Earth asteroid Bennu.

    This illustration shows the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft departing asteroid Bennu to begin its two-year journey back to Earth. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    On Monday, May 10, at 4:23 p.m. EDT the spacecraft fired its main engines full throttle for seven minutes – its most significant maneuver since it arrived at Bennu in 2018. This burn thrust the spacecraft away from the asteroid at 600 miles per hour (nearly 1,000 kilometers per hour), setting it on a 2.5-year cruise towards Earth.

    After releasing the sample capsule, OSIRIS-REx will have completed its primary mission. It will fire its engines to fly by Earth safely, putting it on a trajectory to circle the sun inside of Venus’ orbit.

    After orbiting the Sun twice, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is due to reach Earth Sept. 24, 2023. Upon return, the capsule containing pieces of Bennu will separate from the rest of the spacecraft and enter Earth’s atmosphere. The capsule will parachute to the Utah Test and Training Range in Utah’s West Desert, where scientists will be waiting to retrieve it.

    “OSIRIS-REx’s many accomplishments demonstrated the daring and innovate way in which exploration unfolds in real time,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters. “The team rose to the challenge, and now we have a primordial piece of our solar system headed back to Earth where many generations of researchers can unlock its secrets.”

    To realize the mission’s multi-year plan, a dozen navigation engineers made calculations and wrote computer code to instruct the spacecraft when and how to push itself away from Bennu. After departing from Bennu, getting the sample to Earth safely is the team’s next critical goal. This includes planning future maneuvers to keep the spacecraft on course throughout its journey.

    “Our whole mindset has been, ‘Where are we in space relative to Bennu?’” said Mike Moreau, OSIRIS-REx deputy project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Now our mindset has shifted to ‘Where is the spacecraft in relation to Earth?’”

    The navigation cameras that helped orient the spacecraft in relation to Bennu were turned off April 9, after snapping their last images of the asteroid. With Bennu in the rearview mirror, engineers are using NASA’s Deep Space Network of global spacecraft communications facilities to steer the OSIRIS-REx by sending it radio signals. By measuring the frequency of the waves returned from the spacecraft transponder, engineers can tell how fast OSIRIS-REx is moving. Engineers measure how long it takes for radio signals to get from the spacecraft back to Earth in order to determine its location.

    Exceeding Mission Expectations

    The May 10 departure date was precisely timed based on the alignment of Bennu with Earth. The goal of the return maneuver is to get the spacecraft within about 6,000 miles  (approximately 10,000 kilometers) of Earth in September 2023. Although OSIRIS-REx still has plenty of fuel remaining, the team is trying to preserve as much as possible for a potential extended mission to another asteroid after returning the sample capsule to Earth. The team will investigate the feasibility of such a mission this summer.

    The spacecraft’s course will be determined mainly by the Sun’s gravity, but engineers will need to occasionally make small course adjustments via engine burns.

    “We need to do regular corrections to bring the trajectory increasingly closer to Earth’s atmosphere for the sample release, and to account for small errors that might have accumulated since the last burn,” said Peter Antreasian, OSIRIS-REx navigation lead at KinetX Aerospace, which is based in Simi Valley, California.

    The team will perform course adjustments a few weeks prior to Earth re-entry in order to precisely target the location and angle for the sample capsule’s release into Earth’s atmosphere. Coming in too low could cause the capsule to bounce out of the atmosphere like a pebble skipping off a lake; too high and the capsule could burn up due to friction and heat from the atmosphere. If OSIRIS-REx fails to release the capsule, the team has a backup plan to divert it away from Earth and try again in 2025.

    “There’s a lot of emotion within the team about departure,” Moreau said. “I think everyone has a great sense of accomplishment, because we faced all these daunting tasks and were able to accomplish all the objectives thrown at us. But there’s also some nostalgia and disappointment that this part of the mission is coming to an end.”

    OSIRIS-REx exceeded many expectations. Most recently, in the midst of a global pandemic, the team flawlessly executed the most mission’s critical operation, collecting more than 2 ounces (60 grams) of soil from Bennu’s surface.

    Leading up to sample collection, a number of surprises kept the team on its toes. For example, a week after the spacecraft entered its first orbit around Bennu, on Dec. 31, 2018, the team realized that the asteroid was releasing small pieces of rock into space.

    “We had to scramble to verify that the small particles being ejected from the surface did not present a hazard to the spacecraft,” Moreau said.

    Upon arrival at the asteroid, team members also were astonished to find that Bennu is littered with boulders.

    “We really had this idea that we were arriving on an asteroid with open real estate,” said Heather Enos, OSIRIS-REx deputy principal investigator, based at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “The reality was a big shocker.”

    To overcome the extreme and unexpected ruggedness of Bennu’s surface, engineers had to quickly develop a more accurate navigation technique to target smaller-than-expected sites for sample collection.

    The OSIRIS-REx mission was instrumental in both confirming and refuting several scientific findings. Among those confirmed was a technique that used observations from Earth to predict that the minerals on the asteroid would be carbon-rich and show signs of ancient water. One finding that proved unsuccessful was that Bennu would have a smooth surface, which scientists predicted by measuring how much heat radiated off its surface.

    Scientists will use the information gleaned from Bennu to refine theoretical models and improve future predictions.

    “This mission emphasizes why we have to do science and exploration in multiple ways – both from Earth and from up-close in space – because assumptions and models are just that,” Enos said.

    Goddard 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. The university leads the science team and the mission’s science observation planning and data processing. Lockheed Martin Space in Littleton, Colorado, 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, managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate Washington.

    For more information about OSIRIS-REx, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/osiris-rex

     

    Alana Johnson / Karen Fox
    NASA Headquarters, Washington
    202-672-4780 / 202-358-0668
    alana.r.johnson@nasa.gov / karen.c.fox@nasa.gov

    Rani Gran
    Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
    301-286-2483
    rani.c.gran@nasa.gov

  2. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx MOMs Help Asteroid Mission Thrive

    May 7, 2021 -

    Kids depend on their parents and guardians for care, support, and guidance—and their importance in the lives of children is often celebrated with designated days, like Mother’s Day on Sunday May 9th; NASA missions are no different and have MOMs of their own. MOM is NASA speak for Mission Operation Managers. A NASA MOM manages all the activities associated with communicating with the spacecraft and keeping it safe and healthy.

    Most space missions have at least one MOM on their team. However, OSIRIS-REx (NASA Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer), NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission, needed three. “It’s not easy to maneuver a spacecraft near an asteroid and to orbit it safely,” said Andrew Calloway, the OSIRIS-REx Mission Operations Manager (MOM) at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “The nature and the complexity of this mission calls us to have more people.”

    Devin Poland, NASA OSIRIS-REx MOM notes: My mother is a strong, hard working woman who always saw the best in us. She worked tirelessly to inspire my brother, sister and myself to be kind, generous and to communicate in an effective manner. She has been the glue that binds us for as long as I can remember. As a MOM it is necessary to plan future activities, work to resolve conflicts effectively and be someone the different mission elements can rely on to bring the mission together. Working to lead from within, to inspire the team in the same way my mother worked to inspire me and my siblings, is a critical aspect of being a MOM.
    Credit: Courtesy of D. Poland

    OSIRIS-REx became the first-ever NASA mission to travel to an asteroid and collect a sample for study back on Earth. OSIRIS-REx broke records for the closest-ever orbit of a planetary body by a spacecraft. After two years orbiting asteroid Bennu, OSIRIS-REx collected its sample in October 2020 and is preparing to begin the journey home.

    Andrew Calloway, Nayi Castro, and Devin Poland make up NASA Goddard’s OSIRIS-REx three-MOM team. They work closely with all elements of the project nationwide to make sure the spacecraft remains safe and is thriving as it conducts its science observations of asteroid Bennu.

    Based in Maryland, Arizona, Colorado, and California, OSIRIS-REx team members generate multiple weekly products for the spacecraft to operate and maneuver precisely around Bennu. The widely distributed team was a challenge for the MOMs, and became particularly difficult during COVID 19.

    The three OSIRIS-REx MOMS were essential to cover the “late updates” performed several times per week. The process provides the spacecraft with the most up-to-date navigation and trajectory information, essential for the precision flying and science observations close to the asteroid. It is a quick-turnaround, orchestrated sequence of events performed over 24 hours to compute new command parameters and get them uplinked to the spacecraft.

    “We touch all four teams; navigation, flight dynamics, spacecraft operations and science teams within 24 hours,” Poland said. “Then the flight team uplinked those products to the spacecraft, only hours before the spacecraft does the maneuver.”

    Andrew Calloway, NASA OSIRIS-REx MOM notes: My mom Iris was an amazing woman who inspired and supported me every step of the way on my life’s journey, from long division homework in grade school to my college graduation and beyond. Iris lost her battle with cancer in 2019, but her legacy lives on in me and in my own children as we dare to explore the solar system and learn about the universe around us. As a MOM and a dad, I see humorous similarities between the two. Spacecraft are dependent on us in their first year as we bond. They tend to throw tantrums in their next couple of years, but we love them anyway. We try to nurture them, keep them healthy and safe, teach them right from wrong, and they can be quite temperamental when they reach their teens. The rewards far outweigh the challenges though, and we miss them dearly when they stop calling us. Credit: Courtesy of A. Calloway

    The updates spanned second and third shifts along with many weekends. “Late updates were a big stressor for the entire operations team, because there were so many of them performed over two plus years of proximity operations at Bennu,” said Michael Moreau, OSIRIS-REx deputy project manager at Goddard. “The three MOMs were an essential part of the coordination that was necessary for this process to work.”

    The mission completed ‘107’ late updates and hundreds more navigation late updates during its operations at Bennu.

    The MOMs have developed a close working relationship with each other and the team members around the country. “Each manager brings a different strength and diverse perspective and background to the project,” Calloway said. “This was crucial for solving some of the most complex problems on the mission.”

    Both Calloway and Castro supported mid- and long-term planning for the mission. Poland took care of the day-to-day flight operations focusing on technical requirements.

    Calloway joined NASA Goddard’s OSIRIS-REx team five months prior to launch in April 2016, on loan from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in neighboring Laurel, Maryland, under an inter-agency agreement. Calloway was a MOM on NASA’s Mercury MESSENGER mission for eight years and a core team member of NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto.

    Calloway’s experience was a complementary asset to OSIRIS-REx since Castro and Poland were first-time MOMs on the project. Poland has worked at Goddard for 10 years on various flight projects. He supports OSIRIS-REx’s day-to-day flight operations reviewing the multiple products generated by OSIRIS-REx teams.

    Nayi Castro, NASA OSIRIS-REx MOM notes: My mother was my first role model. She means more to me than words can express. She taught me to be grateful and to strive for kindness in all that I do. She taught me early on how to read and to pursue my aspirations. I admire her greatly and am forever thankful for her unwavering love, support, and friendship. As a MOM, I experienced firsthand a lot of the development of ideas from infancy to execution. This team has further taught me how to work through difficult decisions and bolster resilience. Credit: Courtesy of N. Castro

    Castro joined the team in 2018 as the spacecraft was approaching asteroid Bennu. She has worked on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, and the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft and also works with the Deep Space Network (DSN), scheduling time to upload and download data and monitor critical events. OSIRIS-REx shares the network with other missions. It was difficult to negotiating with different missions to get OSIRIS-REx enough time on the network for the late updates.

    At times, emergencies with the DSN tested the MOMs’ skills, but it also illustrated why OSIRIS-REx needs three MOMs. A facility of the Deep Space Network near Madrid had a network outage that stopped a late update. The mission team could not complete the first step: downloading data from the spacecraft. DSN time was ticking away, reducing their communication time with the spacecraft.

    The team did not want to lose their opportunity for a critical update and the subsequent observations. If they did, it would delay the next flyover and ultimately delay the asteroid sample collection maneuver. The team found a way to condense the 24-hour ‘late update’ into 4 hours with all hands-on deck. The team named this update the “super late update”.

    The mission team conducted the process successfully, allowing OSIRIS-REx to complete that important flyover of a potential sample site.

    As OSIRIS-REx’s time at Bennu comes to an end so does the need for a three-MOM team. The MOMs have completed the most challenging phases of the mission with the exception of return to Earth in 2023. The final flyby of Bennu occurred on April 7, 2021.

    Following the successful sample collection, Calloway has returned to the Applied Physics Laboratory after five years on the team. Castro was promoted to OSIRIS-REx lead MOM and oversaw the mission’s last flyover of Bennu. Poland continues to provide technical support to OSIRIS-REx and has transitioned to be the MOM for another NASA asteroid mission, named Lucy. NASA plans to launch Lucy in September 2021.

    Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there.

    By Rani Gran
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

    Last Updated: May 7, 2021

    Editor: Lynn Jenner

     

  3. WATCH: OSIRIS-REx will Begin Return to Earth

    May 7, 2021 -

    NASA invites the public and the media to watch its first asteroid sample return mission begin a two-year cruise home at 4 p.m. EDT Monday, May 10, on NASA Televisionthe NASA app, and the agency’s website. The public can follow along on the NASA Solar System InstagramTwitter, and Facebook accounts using #ToBennuAndBack, and ask questions about the mission by commenting on an Instagram story between 12 p.m. EDT, May 10 and 12 p.m. EDT, May 11. Answers will post to NASA Solar System’s Instagram stories on May 11.

    This illustration shows the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft departing asteroid Bennu to begin its two-year journey back to Earth. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) is the first NASA mission to visit a near-Earth asteroid, survey the surface, and collect a sample to deliver to Earth. During the broadcast, scientists will reveal new imagery from the mission’s final flyover of the asteroid Bennu and discuss the tense moments from the sample grab in October 2020. The broadcast also will cover how the team engineered its way out of challenges that threatened its mission.

    At approximately 4:16 p.m. EDT, the OSIRIS-REx control room located at Lockheed Martin, in Littleton, Colorado, will receive a confirmation that the spacecraft fired its main thrusters to push away from asteroid Bennu’s orbit, approximately 16 minutes after it happened. After 7 minutes of firing its thrusters, OSIRIS-REx will officially start its long journey home with more than 2.1 ounces (60 grams) of asteroid material.

    The OSIRIS-REx departure sequence is the mission’s most significant maneuver since it arrived at Bennu in 2018. The spacecraft’s thrusters must change its velocity by 595 miles per hour (958 kilometers per hour) for OSIRIS-REx’s path to intersect Earth and achieve a successful sample return at the Utah Test and Training Range on Sept. 24, 2023.

    There is no straight path back to Earth. Like a quarterback throwing a long pass to where a receiver will be in the future, OSIRIS-REx is traveling to where the Earth will be. The spacecraft will circle the Sun twice, covering 1.4 billion miles (2.3 billion kilometers) over to catch up with Earth.

    OSIRIS-REx made history many times during its two and half years of operations on the asteroid, including breaking its own record for the closest orbit of a planetary body by a spacecraft. Bennu is the smallest celestial object ever orbited by a human-built spacecraft.

    OSIRIS-REx will bring back the largest sample collected by a NASA mission since the Apollo astronauts returned with Moon rocks. Scientists plan to analyze the sample to learn about the formation of our solar system and the development of Earth as a habitable planet.

    Once recovered, the capsule will be transported to the curation facility at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, where the sample will be removed for distribution to laboratories worldwide. NASA will set aside 75% of the samples for future generations to study with technologies not yet created.

    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. The University of Arizona leads the science team and the mission’s science observation planning and data processing. Lockheed Martin Space in Littleton, Colorado, 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, managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate Washington.

    For more information on OSIRIS-REx, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/osiris-rex

    Karen Fox / Alana Johnson
    Headquarters, Washington
    301-286-6284 / 202-358-1501
    karen.c.fox@nasa.gov / alana.r.johnson@nasa.gov

    Rani Gran
    Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
    301-286-2483
    Rani.C.Gran@nasa.gov

  4. OSIRIS-REx ‘MOM’ (That’s ‘Mission Operations Manager’ in NASA-speak) Says Goodbye to an Asteroid

    April 26, 2021 -

    Nayi Castro began working with NASA Goddard’s OSIRIS-REx mission in 2018 as the spacecraft approached Asteroid Bennu. She started on the mission as deputy Mission Operations Manager (MOM). Today she serves in the role of lead MOM. As OSIRIS-REx gets ready to leave Bennu, Castro shares her thoughts on her work with OSIRIS-REx and her career with NASA, as well as her personal interests.

    Nayi Castro, mission operations manager for NASA’s OSIRIS-REx, the agency’s first asteroid sample return mission. Credit: NASA

    What are the responsibilities of a MOM?

    Nayi: I manage all of the activities associated with sending commands to, and receiving data back from, the spacecraft. This includes the communication and transfer of products amongst team members, based in Maryland, Arizona, Colorado, and California, something that became particularly challenging during COVID-19.

    How are you feeling about OSIRIS-REx leaving Bennu?

    Nayi: It’s bittersweet to say goodbye to the asteroid that was our spacecraft’s home since OSIRIS-REx’s arrival in 2018. There was a lot of innovative science and engineering tailored to the design and operation of OSIRIS-REx, by an incredible team. As the team starts to focus on return cruise and Earth reentry operations, I am excited to know that scientists will have a piece of Bennu to study and further deepen our understanding of our cosmic surroundings and of ourselves.

    It will take OSIRIS-REx two years to cruise back to Earth, that’s a long road trip. What music do you like to listen to on long road trips?

    Nayi: One of my long road trip playlists would shuffle around Fleetwood Mac, Converge, Florence + the Machine, Bright Eyes, Brandy, Cursive, Bruce Springsteen, Marc Anthony, Misfits, David Bowie, Ms. Lauryn Hill, Glassjaw, Hermanos Gutierrez, The Roots, Jewel, mewithoutYou, Louie Vega, Grupo Niche, Pixies, Ricardo Arjona, The Smiths, The Mountain Goats, The Clash, and on and on.

    What was your favorite moment during the mission?

    Nayi: With 2020 being such a difficult year for humankind, I was fortunate to be on a team that prioritized health, safety, and continued mission success. A favorite thing for me to observe was the progress made through each 2020 mission milestone, such as the Checkpoint Rehearsal, Matchpoint Rehearsal, and ultimately the Touch-and-Go (TAG) asteroid sample collection. It was inspiring to see a team’s dedication striving towards a shared objective, despite being further socially distanced and geographically separated than before.

    Credit: NASA

    How did you get to NASA? What training or jobs or interests led you to this position?

    Nayi: As a child, I found the work at NASA centers fascinating.  When my parents watched the news, if there happened to be a segment on a NASA mission, my ears would perk up because I thought it was incredible that we could learn about objects beyond our home planet. My uncle’s enthusiasm for space missions and the technology and science supporting them also greatly influenced me.

    I pursued my curiosity of space via an Astronautical engineering degree. While I was still in school, NASA and my undergraduate program initiated my career in spacecraft operations when they granted me the opportunity to certify as a flight controller on a NASA mission

    What is your favorite, most challenging, or most rewarding part of the work?

    Nayi: My favorite part of this work is seeing the achievements that are a direct result of every team member’s hard work. It is inspiring to work among science and engineering experts who continuously explore and understand Earth and outer space. I am delighted that these discoveries can then be shared with everyone. It is rewarding to take a step back and appreciate the depth of knowledge that has been collected for decades.

    What missions have you worked on for NASA before OSIRIS-REx?

    Nayi: I’ve been fortunate to work on two NASA Earth-observing missions and a lunar mission. I was a college intern when I worked on the Tropical Rainfall Measurement Mission (TRMM).  At TRMM, I learned how to effectively communicate with the satellite and be mindful of good spacecraft health and safety strategies. After TRMM, the Terra mission was my first full-time opportunity. I was part of the flight team that supported 24/7 on-console operations. The next mission was the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), where I spent most of my operations time. That was a great experience that provided me with various ways to expand my flight console expertise and systems engineering knowledge. I also work with the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft. This mission continues to provide an abundance of information on the Martian atmosphere.

    What do you do in your free time – any hobbies or sports or outside interests?

    Nayi: I enjoy reading, practicing yoga, listening to music, and spending time with loved ones. My dogs also bring me a lot of joy!

    Anything else that you’d like people to know?

    Nayi: I hope that people can find a theme of unity and progress in many of the missions that NASA has flown throughout the years. I aspire to support science and engineering to further understand our solar system and beyond and more of ourselves.

     

    By Rani Gran
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

  5. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Leaves its Mark on Asteroid Bennu

    April 20, 2021 -

    Like boot prints on the Moon, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft left its mark on asteroid Bennu. Now, new images — taken during the spacecraft’s final fly-over on April 7 — reveal the aftermath of its historic encounter with the asteroid.

    Bennu’s surface was disturbed in three different ways: by the force of the spacecraft touching down; by the sampling mechanism, which collected material by blowing gas into its collection filter; and by four of the spacecraft’s back-away thrusters, which moved the spacecraft away from the sample site and agitated dust and boulders on the surface. The image above shows the TAG site and highlights a large boulder thrown about 40 feet (about 12 meters). Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    The spacecraft flew within 2.3 miles (3.7 km) of the asteroid — the closest it has been since the Touch-and-Go, or TAG, sample collection event on Oct. 20, 2020. During TAG, the spacecraft’s sampling head sunk 1.6 feet (48.8 centimeters) into the asteroid’s surface and simultaneously fired a pressurized charge of nitrogen gas, churning up surface material and driving some into the collection chamber. The spacecraft’s thrusters also launched rocks and dust during the maneuver to reverse course and safely back away from the asteroid.

    Comparing the two images reveals obvious signs of surface disturbance. At the sample collection point, there appears to be a depression, with several large boulders evident at the bottom, suggesting that they were exposed by sampling. There is a noticeable increase in the amount of highly reflective material near the TAG point against the generally dark background of the surface, and many rocks were moved around.

    View of the Nightingale sample site before the TAG event. Images were taken on March 7, 2019, by the spacecraft’s PolyCam instrument, as part of the mission’s global mapping campaign. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    Where thrusters fired against the surface, substantial mass movement is apparent. Multiple sub-meter boulders were mobilized by the plumes into a campfire ring–like shape — similar to rings of boulders seen around small craters pocking the surface.

    Jason Dworkin, the mission’s project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, noticed that one boulder measuring 4 feet (1.25 meters) across on the edge of the sampling site seemed to appear only in the post-TAG image. “The rock probably weighs around a ton, with a mass somewhere between a cow and a car.”

    Dante Lauretta, of the University of Arizona and the mission’s principal investigator, later pointed out that this boulder is likely one of those present in the pre-TAG image, but much nearer the sampling location, and estimates it was thrown a distance of 40 feet (about 12 meters) by the sample collection event.

    In order to compare the before and after images, the team had to meticulously plan this final flyover. “Bennu is rough and rocky, so if you look at it from a different angle or capture it at a time when the sun is not directly overhead, that dramatically changes what the surface looks like,” says Dathon Golish, a member of the OSIRIS-REx image processing working group, headquartered at the University of Arizona. “These images were deliberately taken close to noon, with the Sun shining straight down, when there’s not as many shadows.”

    View of the Nightingale sample site after the TAG event. Images were taken on April 7, 2021, as part of a final observation campaign to document the state of the surface after TAG. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    “These observations were not in the original mission plan, so we were excited to go back and document what we did,” Golish said. “The team really pulled together for this one last hurrah.”

    The spacecraft will remain in Bennu’s vicinity until departure on May 10, when the mission will begin its two-year return cruise back to Earth. As it approaches Earth, the spacecraft will jettison the Sample Return Capsule (SRC) that contains the sample from Bennu. The SRC will then travel through Earth’s atmosphere and land under parachutes at the Utah Test and Training Range on Sept. 24, 2023.

    Once recovered, the capsule will be transported to the curation facility at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, where the sample will be removed for distribution to laboratories worldwide, enabling scientists to study the formation of our solar system and Earth as a habitable planet. NASA will set 75% of the sample aside for future generations to study with technologies not invented yet.

    The OSIRIS-REx mission is the first NASA mission to visit a near-Earth asteroid, survey the surface, and collect a sample to deliver to Earth.

    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, D.C.

    For more information about OSIRIS-REx visit: https://www.nasa.gov/osiris-rex

     

    By Mikayla Mace Kelley
    University of Arizona, Tucson, Ariz.

    and by Rani Gran
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

  6. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Completes Final Tour of Asteroid Bennu

    April 7, 2021 -

    NASA’s OSIRIS-REx completed its last flyover of Bennu in around 6 am (EDT), 4am (MDT) April 7th and is now slowly drifting away from the asteroid; however, the mission team will have to wait a few more days to find out how the spacecraft changed the surface of Bennu when it grabbed a sample of the asteroid.

    This image shows a top-down view of asteroid Bennu, with a portion of the asteroid’s equatorial ridge and northern hemisphere illuminated. It was taken by the PolyCam camera on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on March 4, from a distance of about 186 miles (300 km). Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    The OSIRIS-REx team added this flyby to document surface changes resulting from the Touch and Go (TAG) sample collection maneuver October 20, 2020. “By surveying the distribution of the excavated material around the TAG site, we will learn more about the nature of the surface and subsurface materials along with the mechanical properties of the asteroid,” said Dr. Dante Lauretta, Principal Investigator for OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona.

    During the flyby, OSIRIS-REx imaged Bennu for 5.9 hours, covering more than a full rotation of the asteroid. It flew within 2.1 miles (3.5 kilometers) distance to the surface of Bennu – the closest it’s been since the TAG sample collection event.

    It will take until at least April 13th for OSIRIS-REx to downlink all of the data and new pictures of Bennu’s surface recorded during the flyby. It shares the Deep Space Network Antennae with other missions like Mars Perseverance, and typically gets 4-6 hours of downlink time per day. “We collected about 4,000 megabytes of data during the flyby,” said Mike Moreau, Deputy Project Manager of OSIRIS-REx at NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center. “Bennu is approximately 185 million miles from Earth right now, which means we can only achieve a downlink data-rate of 412 kilobits per second, so it will take several days to download all of the flyby data.”

    Once the mission team receives the images and other instrument data, they will study how OSIRIS-REx jumbled up Bennu’s surface. During touchdown, the spacecraft’s sampling head sunk 1.6 feet (48.8 centimeters) into the asteroid’s surface and simultaneously fired a pressurized charge of nitrogen gas. The spacecraft’s thrusters kicked up a large amount of surface material during the back-away burn – launching rocks and dust in the process.

    KinetX Flight Navigator, Leilah McCarthy, processes navigation images to help target NASA’s OSIRIS-REx final flyby of Bennu. Credit: KinetX Inc./Coralie Adam

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

    NASA invites the public to watch OSIRIS-REx depart from Bennu on NASA.gov and NASA TV, at 4 PM EDT.

    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, provides overall mission management, systems engineering, and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx (Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security – Regolith Explorer). 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.

    Written by Rani Gran.

    For more information about this story and OSIRIS-REx visit: https://www.nasa.gov/osiris-rex

  7. OSIRIS-REx’s Final Asteroid Observation Run

    April 1, 2021 -

    NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission is on the brink of discovering the extent of the mess it made on asteroid Bennu’s surface during last fall’s sample collection event. On Apr. 7, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will get one last close encounter with Bennu as it performs a final flyover to capture images of the asteroid’s surface. While performing the flyover, the spacecraft will observe Bennu from a distance of about 2.3 miles (3.7 km) – the closest it’s been since the Touch-and-Go Sample Collection event on Oct. 20, 2020.

    This artist’s concept shows the planned flight path of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft during its final flyby of asteroid Bennu, which is scheduled for April 7. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    The OSIRIS-REx team decided to add this last flyover after Bennu’s surface was significantly disturbed by the sample collection event. During touchdown, the spacecraft’s sampling head sunk 1.6 feet (48.8 centimeters) into the asteroid’s surface and simultaneously fired a pressurized charge of nitrogen gas. The spacecraft’s thrusters also mobilized a substantial amount of surface material during the back-away burn. Because Bennu’s gravity is so weak, these various forces from the spacecraft had a dramatic effect on the sample site – launching many of the region’s rocks and a lot of dust in the process. This final flyby of Bennu will provide the mission team an opportunity to learn how the spacecraft’s contact with Bennu’s surface altered the sample site and the region surrounding it.

    The single flyby will mimic one of the observation sequences conducted during the mission’s Detailed Survey phase in 2019. OSIRIS-REx will image Bennu for 5.9 hours, which is just over a full rotation period of the asteroid. Within this timeframe, the spacecraft’s PolyCam imager will obtain high-resolution images of Bennu’s northern and southern hemispheres and its equatorial region. The team will then compare these new images with the previous high-resolution imagery of the asteroid obtained during 2019.

    Most of the spacecraft’s other science instruments will also collect data during the flyover, including the MapCam imager, the OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer (OTES), the OSIRIS-REx Visible and Infrared Spectrometer (OVIRS), and the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA). Exercising these instruments will give the team a chance to assess the current state of each science instrument onboard the spacecraft, as dust coated the instruments during the sample collection event. Understanding the health of the instruments is also part of NASA’s evaluation of possible extended mission opportunities after the sample is delivered to Earth.

    After the Bennu flyby, it will take several days for the data from the flyover to be downlinked to Earth. Once the data are downlinked, the team will inspect the images to understand how OSIRIS-REx disturbed the asteroid’s surface material. At this point, the team will also be able to evaluate the performance of the science instruments.

    The spacecraft will remain in asteroid Bennu’s vicinity until May 10, when the mission will enter its Return Cruise phase and begin its two-year journey back to Earth. As it approaches Earth, the spacecraft will jettison the Sample Return Capsule (SRC) that contains the rocks and dust collected from Bennu. The SRC will then travel through the Earth’s atmosphere and land under parachutes at the Utah Test and Training Range on Sep. 24, 2023.

    Once recovered, the capsule will be transported to the curation facility at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, where the sample will be removed for distribution to laboratories worldwide, enabling scientists to study the formation of our solar system and Earth as a habitable planet.

    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.

  8. OSIRIS-REx to Fly a Farewell Tour of Bennu

    February 8, 2021 -

    On April 7, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission will give asteroid Bennu one last glance before saying farewell. Before departing for Earth on May 10, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will perform a final flyby of Bennu – capturing its last images of sample collection site Nightingale to look for transformations on Bennu’s surface after the Oct. 20, 2020, sample collection event.

    This artist’s concept shows the planned flight path of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft during its final flyby of asteroid Bennu, which is scheduled for April 7. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    The OSIRIS-REx mission team recently completed a detailed safety analysis of a trajectory to observe sample site Nightingale from a distance of approximately 2.4 miles (3.8 kilometers). The spacecraft’s flight path is designed to keep OSIRIS-REx a safe distance from Bennu, while ensuring the science instruments can collect precise observations. The single flyby will mimic one of the observation sequences conducted during the mission’s Detailed Survey phase in 2019. OSIRIS-REx will image Bennu for a full 4.3-hour rotation to obtain high-resolution images of the asteroid’s northern and southern hemispheres and its equatorial region. The team will then compare these new images with the previous high-resolution imagery of Bennu obtained during 2019.

    This final flyby of Bennu was not part of the original mission schedule, but the observation run will provide the team an opportunity to learn how the spacecraft’s contact with Bennu’s surface altered the sample site. Bennu’s surface was considerably disturbed after the Touch-and-Go (TAG) sample collection event, with the collector head sinking 1.6 feet (48.8 centimeters) into the asteroid’s surface while firing a pressurized charge of nitrogen gas. The spacecraft’s thrusters also mobilized a substantial amount of surface material during the back-away burn.

    During this new mission phase, called the Post-TAG Observation (PTO) phase, the spacecraft will perform five separate navigation maneuvers in order to return to the asteroid and position itself for the flyby. OSIRIS-REx executed the first maneuver on Jan. 14, which acted as a braking burn and put the spacecraft on a trajectory to rendezvous with the asteroid one last time. Since October’s sample collection event, the spacecraft has been slowly drifting away from the asteroid, and ended up approximately 1,635 miles (2,200 km) from Bennu. After the braking burn, the spacecraft is now slowly approaching the asteroid and will perform a second approach maneuver on Mar. 6, when it is approximately 155 miles (250 km) from Bennu. OSIRIS-REx will then execute three subsequent maneuvers, which are required to place the spacecraft on a precise trajectory for the final flyby on Apr. 7.

    This artist’s concept shows the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft departing asteroid Bennu to begin its two-year journey back to Earth. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    OSIRIS-REx is scheduled to depart Bennu on May 10 and begin its two-year journey back to Earth. The spacecraft will deliver the samples of Bennu to the Utah Test and Training Range 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.

  9. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Mission Plans for May Asteroid Departure

    January 26, 2021 -

    On May 10, NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft will say farewell to asteroid Bennu and begin its journey back to Earth. During its Oct. 20, 2020, sample collection event, the spacecraft collected a substantial amount of material from Bennu’s surface, likely exceeding the mission’s requirement of 2 ounces (60 grams). The spacecraft is scheduled to deliver the sample to Earth on Sep. 24, 2023.

    This artist’s concept shows the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft departing asteroid Bennu to begin its two-year journey back to Earth. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    “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,” said Michael Moreau, OSIRIS-REx deputy project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “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 May departure also provides the OSIRIS-REx team with the opportunity to plan a final spacecraft flyby of Bennu. This activity was not part of the original mission schedule, but the team is studying the feasibility of a final observation run of the asteroid to potentially learn how the spacecraft’s contact with Bennu’s surface altered the sample site.

    If feasible, the flyby will take place in early April and will observe the sample site, named Nightingale, from a distance of approximately 2 miles (3.2 kilometers). Bennu’s surface was considerably disturbed after the Touch-and-Go (TAG) sample collection event, with the collector head sinking 1.6 feet (48.8 centimeters) into the asteroid’s surface. The spacecraft’s thrusters also disturbed a substantial amount of surface material during the back-away burn.

    The mission is planning a single flyby, mimicking one of the observation sequences conducted during the mission’s Detailed Survey phase in 2019. OSIRIS-REx would image Bennu for a full rotation to obtain high-resolution images of the asteroid’s northern and southern hemispheres and equatorial region. The team would then compare these new images with the previous high-resolution imagery of Bennu obtained during 2019.

    “OSIRIS-REx has already provided incredible science,” said Lori Glaze, NASA’s director of planetary science at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “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 TAG and to render a proper farewell.”

    These post-TAG observations would also give the team a chance to assess the current functionality of science instruments onboard the spacecraft – specifically the OSIRIS-REx Camera Suite (OCAMS), OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer (OTES), OSIRIS-REx Visible and Infrared Spectrometer (OVIRS), and OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA). It is possible dust coated the instruments during the sample collection event and the mission wants to evaluate the status of each. Understanding the health of the instruments is also part of the team’s assessment of possible extended mission opportunities after the sample is delivered to Earth.

    The spacecraft will remain in asteroid Bennu’s vicinity until May 10, when the mission will enter its Earth Return Cruise phase. As it approaches Earth, OSIRIS-REx will jettison the Sample Return Capsule (SRC). The SRC will then travel through the Earth’s atmosphere and land under parachutes at the Utah Test and Training Range.

    Once recovered, NASA will transport the capsule to the curation facility at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston and distribute the sample to laboratories worldwide, enabling scientists to study the formation of our solar system and Earth as a habitable planet.

    Goddard provides overall mission management, systems engineering, and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona in  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 Littleton, Colorado, 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 NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

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