1. NASA gives green light for OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to visit another asteroid

    April 25, 2022 -

    NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will swing by Earth to deliver a sample from asteroid Bennu on Sept. 24, 2023. But it won’t clock out after that.

    APEX Graphic

    This is an artists illustration of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft firing thrusters near the surface of the asteroid Apophis. Credit: Heather Roper

    NASA has extended the University of Arizona-led mission, which will be renamed OSIRIS-APEX, to study near-Earth asteroid Apophis for 18 months. Apophis will make a close approach to Earth in 2029.

    Imaging scientist Dathon Golish created this simulated image of the view of near-Earth asteroid Apophis in the APEX camera, based on a shape model produced by JPL’s Marina Brozović and her colleagues. Credit: UArizona/JPL/Arecibo

    The University of Arizona will lead the mission, which will make its first maneuver toward Apophis 30 days after the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft delivers the sample it collected from Bennu back in October 2020. At that point, the original mission team will split – the sample analysis team will analyze the Bennu sample, while the spacecraft and instrument team transitions to OSIRIS-APEX, which is short for OSIRIS-Apophis Explorer.

    Regents Professor of Planetary Sciences Dante Lauretta will remain principal investigator of OSIRIS-REx through the remaining two-year sample return phase of the mission. Planetary sciences assistant professor and OSIRIS-REx deputy principal investigator Dani DellaGiustina will then become principal investigator of OSIRIS-APEX. The extension adds another $200 million to the mission cost cap.

    The mission team did an exhaustive search for potential asteroid targets. The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft was built for what’s called a rendezvous mission, meaning instead of making a single flyby of an object and quickly snapping images and collecting data, it was designed to “get up close and personal with the object.” DellaGiustina said. “Our spacecraft is really phenomenal at that.”

    “Apophis is one of the most infamous asteroids,” DellaGiustina said. “When it was first discovered in 2004, there was concern that it would impact the Earth in 2029 during its close approach. That risk was retired after subsequent observations, but it will be the closest an asteroid of this size has gotten in the 50 or so years asteroids have been closely tracked, or for the next 100 years of asteroids we have discovered so far. It gets within one-tenth the distance between the Earth and moon during the 2029 encounter. People in Europe and Africa will be able to see it with the naked eye, that’s how close it will get. We were stoked to find out the mission was extended.”

    OSIRIS-REx was launched in 2016 to collect a sample from Bennu that will help scientists learn about the formation of the solar system and Earth as a habitable planet. OSIRIS-REx is the first NASA mission to collect and return a sample from a near-Earth asteroid.

    OSIRIS-APEX will not collect a sample, but when it reaches Apophis, it will study the asteroid for 18 months and collect data along the way. It also will make a maneuver similar to the one it made during sample collection at Bennu, by approaching the surface and firing its thrusters. This event will expose the asteroid’s subsurface, to allow mission scientists to learn more about the asteroid’s material properties.

    The scientists also want to study how the asteroid will be physically affected by the gravitational pull of Earth as it makes its close approach in 2029.

    They also want to learn more about the composition of the asteroid. Apophis is about the same size as Bennu – nearly 1000 feet at its longest point – but it differs in what’s called its spectral type. Bennu is a B-type asteroid linked to carbonaceous chondrite meteorites, whereas Apophis is an S-type asteroid linked to ordinary chondrite meteorites.

    “The OSIRIS-REx mission has already achieved so many firsts and I am proud it will continue to teach us about the origins of our solar system,” said University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins. “The OSIRIS-APEX mission extension keeps the University of Arizona in the lead as one of the premier institutions in the world to study small bodies with spacecraft and demonstrates again our incredible capacity in space sciences.”

    DellaGiustina is also excited that the mission provides an excellent opportunity for early career scientists to gain professional development. OSIRIS-REx veterans will work closely with these early career scientists as mentors in the early mission phases. By the time the spacecraft arrives at Apophis, the next generation will step into leadership roles on OSIRIS-APEX.

    “OSIRIS-APEX is a manifestation of a core objective of our mission to enable the next generation of leadership in space exploration. I couldn’t be prouder of Dani and the APEX team,” Lauretta said. “Dani first started working with us in 2005 as an undergraduate student. To see her take on the leadership of the mission to asteroid Apophis demonstrates the outstanding educational opportunities at the University of Arizona.”

    Writer: Mikayla Mace Kelley
    The University of Arizona

    Related Link:

    NASA Press Release: NASA Extends Exploration for 8 Planetary Science Missions

  2. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Sample Return Team Receives 2022 John L. ‘Jack’ Swigert, Jr., Award for Space Exploration

    April 5, 2022 -

    NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission team received the 2022 John L. “Jack” Swigert, Jr., Award for Space Exploration by the Space Foundation, a nonprofit organization that advocates for space exploration and space-inspired industries.

    The award recognizes the OSIRIS-REx team’s extraordinary accomplishments in space exploration and discoveries made at asteroid Bennu. The award honors the memory of astronaut John L. “Jack” Swigert, Jr., the command module pilot for the Apollo 13 mission. During Apollo 13’s April 1970 voyage to the Moon, an oxygen tank ruptured, placing the crew in peril. People around the globe watched NASA work against the clock and against the odds to return the crew safely to Earth.

    Left to Right: Tom Zelibor, CEO of the Space Foundation; Mike Moreau, deputy project manager, NASA Goddard; Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate; Sandy Freund, Lockheed Martin mission operations manager; Peter Antreasian, navigation team chief, KinetX; Dante Lauretta, principal investigator at University of Arizona, Tucson; Rich Burns, project manager at NASA Goddard. The Space Foundation honored representatives from NASA, the University of Arizona and Lockheed Martin on April 4, 2022, during the opening ceremonies of the 37th Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Credit: Space Foundation

    The Space Foundation honored representatives from NASA, University of Arizona and Lockheed Martin on April 4, 2022, during the opening ceremonies of the 37th Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “The OSIRIS-REx team has raised the bar when it comes to extraordinary accomplishments in the realm of space exploration and discovery,” said Space Foundation CEO, Tom Zelibor. The OSIRIS-REx team’s work in literally grabbing a piece of our universe and bringing it back to Earth for further study and understanding lays the groundwork for forging the next generation of scientists, astronomers, geologists and more.”]

    “It’s humbling to be a part of such an effective mission team who made the difficult seem easy by knocking down every unexpected challenge, from the extraordinarily rugged surface of Bennu to operating in the depths of the pandemic, with the poise and perseverance that Jack Swigert personified,” said Rich Burns, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

    The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft reached Bennu in December 2018. The mission’s first close-up images of Bennu revealed a rough and rocky surface instead of the sandy, pebbly “beach” the team had expected. Earth-based observations of the asteroid suggested it had a much smoother surface. This discovery forced the team to rethink how the spacecraft would collect a sample from Bennu. They decided to switch to a backup navigation system that increased mission accuracy and allowed OSIRIS-REx to accommodate Bennu’s rugged obstacles.

    OSIRIS-REx spent more than two years near the asteroid, gathering information about its size, shape, mass, and composition, while monitoring its spin and orbital trajectory.

    On Oct. 20, 2020, OSIRIS-REx gently touched a relatively smooth spot in a crater on the northern hemisphere of asteroid Bennu and collected an overwhelming amount of material. So much so, small rocks wedged the sample collector’s lid open a little bit, causing regolith to leak from the capsule. As a result, the team canceled an activity to measure the amount of material collected, called the sample mass measurement spin, as the test would cause OSIRIS-REx to lose more of the collected sample. Instead, carefully and quickly, the mission stowed the precious material in its sample return capsule.

    “The team is deeply grateful to be honored by the Space Foundation and to have our achievements recognized with the Swigert Award,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at University of Arizona, Tucson. “We accomplished something truly amazing with our exploration of near-Earth asteroid Bennu. The best times are ahead of us, and the team is focused on ‘the ground game,’ recovering the sample return capsule and delivering the sample to NASA’s Johnson Space Center. The analysis team is busy preparing our arsenal of laboratory instruments, Bennu still has much to teach us.”

    OSIRIS-REx left Bennu on May 10, 2021 and will deliver significantly more sample than the minimum target of two ounces, or 60 grams, (about the mass of a C battery) to Earth on Sept. 24, 2023, with the capsule touching down in the Utah Test and Training Range.

    The University of Arizona leads the OSIRIS-REx science team and the mission’s science observation planning and data processing. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, provides overall mission management, systems engineering, and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. 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 at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.