Natural Feature Tracking

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.

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. During descent, if the spacecraft predicts it will touch unsafe terrain (red/yellow), it will autonomously wave-off and back away from the surface. However, if it sees that the area is free of hazards (green), it will continue to descend and attempt to collect a sample.

Natural Feature Tracking was invented and developed by Lockheed Martin. It was added to the mission to provide enhanced capabilities for TAG and enabled the delivery of the spacecraft to the Nightingale Crater.

Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona


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