1. Flyover of the Candidate Sample Sites

    August 29, 2019 -

    This animated flyover of each of the four candidate sample collection sites on asteroid Bennu, selected by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission, was produced using close-range data from the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA), an instrument contributed by the Canadian Space Agency. It illustrates the location of each site on Bennu, the topography of each site, and the potential sampling regions that the spacecraft will target, which are 10 meters in diameter.

    The laser altimeter on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has produced the highest resolution topographic maps ever of any planetary body. These maps of asteroid Bennu provide three-dimensional, detailed views of the OSIRIS-REx mission’s final four candidate sample collection sites, which are designated Nightingale, Kingfisher, Osprey and Sandpiper.

    OLAis equipped with two lasers and uses a steerable mirror to rapidly scan the asteroid’s surface to produce detailed images of boulders, craters and other geological features. OLA collected scans using its low-energy laser transmitter (LELT) during the spacecraft’s low altitude orbit– approximately 700 meters above Bennu’s surface. The LELT is designed to fire 10,000 light pulses per second at the asteroid, and three-dimensional terrain models of the four sites were produced using these light pulses.

    High-resolution maps of the four potential sample sites will allow the OSIRIS-REx team to assess the safety and accessibility of each region, locate landmarks that will help the spacecraft navigate during sample collection and identify areas of fine-grained material compatible with OSIRIS-REx’s sampling mechanism. These maps will be crucial for selecting the final two sample collection sites in December.

    OLA’s LELT will continue to gather Bennu data in tandem with the other instruments on the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. The final selection of a primary and backup sample collection site will be announced in December 2019, and sample collection is scheduled for the latter half of 2020.

    Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/CSA/York University/MDA

  2. NASA Mission Selects Final Four Site Candidates for Asteroid Sample Return

    August 12, 2019 -

    After months grappling with the rugged reality of asteroid Bennu’s surface, the team leading NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission has selected four potential sites for the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft to “tag” its cosmic dance partner.

    Since its arrival in December 2018, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has mapped the entire asteroid in order to identify the safest and most accessible spots for the spacecraft to collect a sample. These four sites now will be studied in further detail in order to select the final two sites – a primary and backup – in December.

    The final four candidate sample collection sites on asteroid Bennu are designated Nightingale, Kingfisher, Osprey and Sandpiper. The final site will be selected in December 2019. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/CSA/York/MDA

    The team originally had planned to choose the final two sites by this point in the mission. Initial analysis of Earth-based observations suggested the asteroid’s surface likely contains large “ponds” of fine-grain material. The spacecraft’s earliest images, however, revealed Bennu has an especially rocky terrain. Since then, the asteroid’s boulder-filled topography has created a challenge for the team to identify safe areas containing sampleable material, which must be fine enough – less than 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter – for the spacecraft’s sampling mechanism to ingest it.

    “We knew that Bennu would surprise us, so we came prepared for whatever we might find,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “As with any mission of exploration, dealing with the unknown requires flexibility, resources and ingenuity. The OSIRIS-REx team has demonstrated these essential traits for overcoming the unexpected throughout the Bennu encounter.”

    The original mission schedule intentionally included more than 300 days of extra time during asteroid operations to address such unexpected challenges. In a demonstration of its flexibility and ingenuity in response to Bennu’s surprises, the mission team is adapting its site selection process. Instead of down-selecting to the final two sites this summer, the mission will spend an additional four months studying the four candidate sites in detail, with a particular focus on identifying regions of fine-grain, sampleable material from upcoming, high-resolution observations of each site. The boulder maps that citizen science counters helped create through observations earlier this year were used as one of many pieces of data considered when assessing each site’s safety. The data collected will be key to selecting the final two sites best suited for sample collection.

    In order to further adapt to Bennu’s ruggedness, the OSIRIS-REx team has made other adjustments to its sample site identification process. The original mission plan envisioned a sample site with a radius of 82 feet (25 m). Boulder-free sites of that size don’t exist on Bennu, so the team has instead identified sites ranging from 16 to 33 feet (5 to 10 m) in radius. In order for the spacecraft to accurately target a smaller site, the team reassessed the spacecraft’s operational capabilities to maximize its performance. The mission also has tightened its navigation requirements to guide the spacecraft to the asteroid’s surface, and developed a new sampling technique called “Bullseye TAG,” which uses images of the asteroid surface to navigate the spacecraft all the way to the actual surface with high accuracy. The mission’s performance so far has demonstrated the new standards are within its capabilities.

    “Although OSIRIS-REx was designed to collect a sample from an asteroid with a beach-like area, the extraordinary in-flight performance to date demonstrates that we will be able to meet the challenge that the rugged surface of Bennu presents,” said Rich Burns, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “That extraordinary performance encompasses not only the spacecraft and instruments, but also the team who continues to meet every challenge that Bennu throws at us.”

    The four candidate sample sites on Bennu are designated Nightingale, Kingfisher, Osprey, and Sandpiper – all birds native to Egypt. The naming theme complements the mission’s two other naming conventions – Egyptian deities (the asteroid and spacecraft) and mythological birds (surface features on Bennu).

    The final four candidate sample collection sites on asteroid Bennu are designated Nightingale, Kingfisher, Osprey and Sandpiper. Each circle has a 16.4 ft (5 m) radius. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    The four sites are diverse in both geographic location and geological features. While the amount of sampleable material in each site has yet to be determined, all four sites have been evaluated thoroughly to ensure the spacecraft’s safety as it descends to, touches and collects a sample from the asteroid’s surface.

    Nightingale is the northern-most site, situated at 56 degrees north latitude on Bennu. There are multiple possible sampling regions in this site, which is set in a small crater encompassed by a larger crater 459 feet (140 m) in diameter. The site contains mostly fine-grain, dark material and has the lowest albedo, or reflection, and surface temperature of the four sites.

    Kingfisher is located in a small crater near Bennu’s equator at 11 degrees north latitude. The crater has a diameter of 26 feet (8 m) and is surrounded by boulders, although the site itself is free of large rocks. Among the four sites, Kingfisher has the strongest spectral signature for hydrated minerals.

    Osprey is set in a small crater, 66 feet (20 m) in diameter, which is also located in Bennu’s equatorial region at 11 degrees north latitude. There are several possible sampling regions within the site. The diversity of rock types in the surrounding area suggests that the regolith within Osprey may also be diverse. Osprey has the strongest spectral signature of carbon-rich material among the four sites.

    Sandpiper is located in Bennu’s southern hemisphere, at 47 degrees south latitude. The site is in a relatively flat area on the wall of a large crater 207 ft (63 m) in diameter. Hydrated minerals are also present, which indicates that Sandpiper may contain unmodified water-rich material.

    This fall, OSIRIS-REx will begin detailed analyses of the four candidate sites during the mission’s reconnaissance phase. During the first stage of this phase, the spacecraft will execute high passes over each of the four sites from a distance of 0.8 miles (1.29 km) to confirm they are safe and contain sampleable material. Closeup imaging also will map the features and landmarks required for the spacecraft’s autonomous navigation to the asteroid’s surface. The team will use the data from these passes to select the final primary and backup sample collection sites in December.

    The final four candidate sample collection sites shown on a map of asteroid Bennu. They are designated Nightingale, Kingfisher, Osprey and Sandpiper. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    The second and third stages of reconnaissance will begin in early 2020 when the spacecraft will perform passes over the final two sites at lower altitudes and take even higher resolution observations of the surface to identify features, such as groupings of rocks that will be used to navigate to the surface for sample collection. OSIRIS-REx sample collection is scheduled for the latter half of 2020, and the spacecraft will return the asteroid samples to Earth on Sept. 24, 2023.

    Goddard provides overall mission management, systems engineering, and safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is the principal investigator, and the University of Arizona 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 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.

    To explore the final four candidate sites in detail, click here.

  3. Asteroid Bennu’s Features To Be Named After Mythical Birds

    August 8, 2019 -

    Working with NASA’s OSIRIS-REx team, the International Astronomical Union’s Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature (WGPSN) approved the theme “birds and bird-like creatures in mythology” for naming surface features on asteroid (101955) Bennu.

    This image shows boulder formations on asteroid Bennu’s surface. It was taken by the PolyCam camera on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on April 11, 2019 from a distance of 2.8 miles (4.5 km). Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    OSIRIS-REx is NASA’s first mission to bring a sample from an asteroid back to Earth. The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has been mapping Bennu’s surface since its arrival on December 3rd, 2018, looking for a site from which to take a sample. Bennu is the smallest body in the Solar System to be orbited and surveyed by a spacecraft at close range.

    The named features on Bennu will include several terrain classification types that the IAU also approved for asteroid (162173) Ryugu’s surface features (currently being explored by the Japanese Space Agency’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft). These include craters, dorsa (peaks or ridges), fossae (grooves or trenches) and saxa (rocks and boulders). The last of these types – saxum – is a new feature classification that the IAU introduced earlier this year for small, rocky asteroids like Ryugu and Bennu. These surface features on Bennu will be named after mythological birds and bird-like creatures, complementing the mission’s existing naming theme, which is rooted in Egyptian mythology.

    The name OSIRIS-REx is an acronym for the mission’s major concepts and goals, which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer. The name also finds inspiration in the Egyptian myth of the god Osiris. In ancient Egyptian mythology, Osiris is associated with the afterlife, the underworld and rebirth. He granted all life, including sprouting vegetation and the fertile flooding of the Nile River. Similarly, the OSIRIS-REx mission seeks to understand the origin and process of life on Earth by studying Bennu’s carbon-rich regolith.

    Bennu was named in 2013 by a 9-year-old boy from North Carolina who won the Name that Asteroid! Competition, a collaboration between the mission, the Planetary Society, and the LINEAR asteroid survey that discovered Bennu. Michael Puzio won the contest by suggesting that the spacecraft’s Touch-and-Go Sample Mechanism (TAGSAM) arm and solar panels resemble the neck and wings in illustrations of Bennu, whom ancient Egyptians usually depicted as a gray heron. Bennu is the ancient Egyptian deity linked with the Sun, creation and rebirth — Puzio also noted that Bennu is the living symbol of Osiris. The myth of Bennu suits the asteroid itself, given that it is a primitive object that dates back to the creation of the Solar System. Themes of origins, rebirth and duality are all part of this asteroid’s story. Birds and bird-like creatures are also symbolic of rebirth, creation and origins in various ancient myths.

    The process of naming of Bennu’s surface and features will begin this summer. The OSIRIS-REx team is scheduled to begin detailed reconnaissance on candidate sample sites this fall. Sample collection is scheduled for summer 2020, and the sample will return 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 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.

  4. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Mission Breaks Another Orbit Record

    June 13, 2019 -

    On June 12, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft performed another significant navigation maneuver—breaking its own world record for the closest orbit of a planetary body by a spacecraft.

    On Jun. 12, 2019, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft went into orbit around asteroid Bennu for a second time — breaking its own record for the closest orbit of a planetary body by any spacecraft.

    The maneuver began the mission’s new phase, known as Orbital B, and placed the spacecraft in an orbit 680 meters (2,231 feet) above the surface of asteroid Bennu. The previous record—also set by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft—was approximately 1.3 kilometers (0.8 miles) above the surface.

    Upon arrival at Bennu, the team observed particles ejecting into space from the asteroid’s surface. To better understand why this is occurring, the first two weeks of Orbital B will be devoted to observing these events by taking frequent images of the asteroid’s horizon. For the remaining five weeks, the spacecraft will map the entire asteroid using most of its onboard science instruments: the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA) will produce a full terrain map; PolyCam will form a high-resolution, global image mosaic; and the OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer (OTES) and the REgolith X-ray Imaging Spectrometer (REXIS) will produce global maps in the infrared and X-ray bands. All of these measurements are essential for selecting the best sample collection site on Bennu’s surface.

    OSIRIS-REx will remain in Orbital B until the second week of August, when it will transition to the slightly higher Orbital C for additional particle observations. During Orbital C, the spacecraft will be approximately 1.3 kilometers (0.8 miles) above the asteroid’s surface.

    The OSIRIS-REx team will also use data collected from Orbital B phase to assess the safety and sample-ability (the likelihood that a sample can be collected) of each potential sample collection site. The team will then choose four possible sample sites to be thoroughly evaluated this fall during the Reconnaissance phase of the mission. Data from the Reconnaissance phase will be used to evaluate the candidate sites for further down-selection, as well as provide the closeup imaging required to map the features and landmarks necessary for the spacecraft’s autonomous navigation to the asteroid’s surface.

    On June 12, 2019, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft entered its second orbital phase around asteroid Bennu, called Orbital B, and broke its own world record for the closest orbit of a planetary body. The spacecraft moved into a circular orbit 0.4 miles (680 meters) above Bennu’s surface. The previous record was set by OSIRIS-REx on Dec. 31, 2018, when the spacecraft flew 0.8 miles (1.33 km) above the asteroid’s surface during Orbital A phase.

    Several safety requirements must be considered before sample collection. For instance, any candidate site must be clear enough of large rocks or boulders so that the spacecraft can navigate to the surface without encountering dangerous terrain. Additionally, to keep OSIRIS-REx upright during sample collection, the chosen site can’t be tilted too much compared to the sampling arm. Bennu’s unexpectedly rocky surface has made it more challenging than originally predicted to identify sites that meet both of these safety requirements. In response, the team is evaluating both spacecraft and navigation performance capabilities, which will likely enable greater precision guidance to target more confined sites.

    The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is on a seven-year journey to study the asteroid Bennu and return a sample from its surface to Earth. This sample of a primitive asteroid will help scientists understand the formation of the Solar System over 4.5 billion years ago. Sample collection is scheduled for summer of 2020, and the spacecraft will deliver the sample to Earth in September 2023.

    NASA Goddard provides overall mission management, systems engineering, and safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is the principal investigator, and the University of Arizona 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.

  5. NASA Invites Public to Help Asteroid Mission Choose Sample Site

    May 22, 2019 -

    Citizen scientists assemble! NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission to the asteroid Bennu needs extra pairs of eyes to help choose its sample collection site on the asteroid – and to look for anything else that might be scientifically interesting.

    This image shows the wide variety of boulder shapes, sizes and compositions found on asteroid Bennu. It was taken by the PolyCam camera on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on March 28 from a distance of 2.1 miles (3.4 km). Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has been at Bennu since Dec. 3, 2018, mapping the asteroid in detail, while the mission team searches for a sample collection site that is safe, conducive to sample collection and worthy of closer study. One of the biggest challenges of this effort, which the team discovered after arriving at the asteroid five months ago, is that Bennu has an extremely rocky surface and each boulder presents a danger to the spacecraft’s safety. To expedite the sample selection process, the team is asking citizen scientist volunteers to develop a hazard map by counting boulders.

    “For the safety of the spacecraft, the mission team needs a comprehensive catalog of all the boulders near the potential sample collection sites, and I invite members of the public to assist the OSIRIS-REx mission team in accomplishing this essential task,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

    For this effort, NASA is partnering with CosmoQuest, a project run out of the Planetary Science Institute that supports citizen science initiatives. Volunteers will perform the same tasks that planetary scientists do – measuring Bennu’s boulders and mapping its rocks and craters – through the use of a simple web interface. They will also mark other scientifically interesting features on the asteroid for further investigation.

    The boulder mapping work involves a high degree of precision, but it is not difficult. The CosmoQuest mapping app requires a computer with a larger screen and a mouse or trackpad capable of making precise marks. To help volunteers get started, the CosmoQuest team provides an interactive tutorial, as well as additional user assistance through a Discord community and livestreaming sessions on Twitch.

    “We are very pleased and excited to make OSIRIS-REx images available for this important citizen science endeavor,” said Rich Burns, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. “Bennu has surprised us with an abundance of boulders. We ask for citizen scientists’ help to evaluate this rugged terrain so that we can keep our spacecraft safe during sample collection operations.”

    This image shows a view of asteroid Bennu’s surface in a region near the equator. It was taken by the PolyCam camera on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on March 21 from a distance of 2.2 miles (3.5 km). Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    Sample return isn’t new for NASA – this year, the agency is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo missions to the Moon, which allowed astronauts to bring back 842 pounds (382 kilograms) of rocks and lunar soil. Those samples helped scientists discover that the Moon has water locked in its rocks and even permanently frozen in craters. These findings and others inspired the agency to create the Artemis program to return humans to the Moon by 2024 and start preparing for human exploration on Mars.

    “The OSIRIS-REx mission will continue the Apollo legacy by giving scientists precious samples of an asteroid,” said Lori Glaze, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “These samples will help scientists discover the secrets of planetary formation and the origins of our planet Earth.”

    The Bennu mapping campaign continues through July 10, when the mission begins the sample site selection process. Once primary and secondary sites are selected, the spacecraft will begin closer reconnaissance to map the two sites to sub-centimeter resolution. The mission’s Touch-and-Go (TAG) sampling maneuver is scheduled for July 2020, and the spacecraft will return to Earth with its cargo in September 2023.

    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, 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.

    To volunteer as a Bennu mapper, visit:

    Bennu.cosmoquest.org

  6. OSIRIS-REx Special Collection in Nature

    March 26, 2019 -

    When NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft arrived at asteroid Bennu on Dec. 3, 2018, it found a tiny world that in many respects was as the mission team had expected based on ground-based observations — but the team also found that Bennu held quite a few surprises, too. On March 19, 2019, Nature­ published a special collection of eight papers from the OSIRIS-REx mission team providing a first look at asteroid Bennu. The following provides the key findings published in those scientific papers. The full Nature collection may be accessed directly here.

    Global elevation map of asteroid Bennu. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    Lauretta and DellaGiustina et al.The unexpected surface of asteroid (101955) Bennu.Nature.

    NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft recently arrived at Bennu, a primitive body that represents the objects that may have brought prebiotic molecules and volatiles such as water to Earth. Bennu is a low-albedo B-type asteroid that has been linked to organic-rich hydrated carbonaceous chondrites. Such meteorites are altered by ejection from their parent body and contaminated by atmospheric entry and terrestrial microbes. Therefore, the primary mission objective is to return a sample of Bennu to Earth that is pristine—that is, not affected by these processes. The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft carries a sophisticated suite of instruments to characterize Bennu’s global properties, support the selection of a sampling site and document that site at a sub-centimeter scale. Here we consider early OSIRIS-REx observations of Bennu to understand how the asteroid’s properties compare to pre-encounter expectations and to assess the prospects for sample return. The bulk composition of Bennu appears to be hydrated and volatile-rich, as expected. However, in contrast to pre-encounter modelling of Bennu’s thermal inertia and radar polarization ratios—which indicated a generally smooth surface covered by centimeter-scale particles—resolved imaging reveals an unexpected surficial diversity. The albedo, texture, particle size and roughness are beyond the spacecraft design specifications. On the basis of our pre-encounter knowledge, we developed a sampling strategy to target 50-meter-diameter patches of loose regolith with grain sizes smaller than two centimeters. We observe only a small number of apparently hazard-free regions, of the order of 5 to 20 meters in extent, the sampling of which poses a substantial challenge to mission success.

     

    Barnouin et al.Shape of (101955) Bennu indicative of a rubble pile with internal stiffness.Nature Geoscience.

    The shapes of asteroids reflect interplay between their interior properties and the processes responsible for their formation and evolution as they journey through the Solar System. Prior to the OSIRIS-REx mission, Earth-based radar imaging gave an overview of Bennu’s shape. Here we construct a high-resolution shape model from OSIRIS-REx images. We find that Bennu’s top-like shape, considerable macroporosity and prominent surface boulders suggest that it is a rubble pile. High-standing, north–south ridges that extend from pole to pole, many long grooves and surface mass wasting indicate some low levels of internal friction and/or cohesion. Our shape model indicates that, similar to other top-shaped asteroids, Bennu formed by reaccumulation and underwent past periods of fast spin, which led to its current shape. Today, Bennu might follow a different evolutionary pathway, with an interior stiffness that permits surface cracking and mass wasting.

     

    DellaGiustina and Emery et al.Properties of rubble-pile asteroid (101955) Bennu from OSIRIS-REx imaging and thermal analysis.Nature Astronomy.

    Establishing the abundance and physical properties of regolith and boulders on asteroids is crucial for understanding the formation and degradation mechanisms at work on their surfaces. Using images and thermal data from NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, we show that asteroid Bennu’s surface is globally rough, dense with boulders, and low in albedo. The number of boulders is surprising given Bennu’s moderate thermal inertia, suggesting that simple models linking thermal inertia to particle size do not adequately capture the complexity relating these properties. At the same time, we find evidence for a wide range of particle sizes with distinct albedo characteristics. Our findings imply that ages of Bennu’s surface particles span from the disruption of the asteroid’s parent body (boulders) to recent in situ production (micrometer-scale particles).

     

    Hamilton et al.Evidence for widespread hydrated minerals on asteroid (101955) Bennu.Nature Astronomy.

    Early spectral data from the OSIRIS-REx mission reveal evidence for abundant hydrated minerals on the surface of near-Earth asteroid Bennu in the form of a near-infrared absorption near 2.7 µm and thermal infrared spectral features that are most similar to those of aqueously altered CM-type carbonaceous chondrites. We observe these spectral features across the surface of Bennu, and there is no evidence of substantial rotational variability at the spatial scales of tens to hundreds of metres observed to date. In the visible and near-infrared (0.4 to 2.4 µm) Bennu’s spectrum appears featureless and with a blue (negative) slope, confirming previous ground-based observations. Bennu may represent a class of objects that could have brought volatiles and organic chemistry to Earth.

     

    Hergenrother et al.Operational environment and rotational acceleration of asteroid (101955) Bennu from OSIRIS-REx observations.Nature Communications [open access].

    During its approach to asteroid Bennu, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft surveyed Bennu’s immediate environment, photometric properties, and rotation state. Discovery of a dusty environment, a natural satellite, or unexpected asteroid characteristics would have had consequences for the mission’s safety and observation strategy. Here we show that spacecraft observations during this period were highly sensitive to satellites (sub-meter scale) but reveal none, although later navigational images indicate that further investigation is needed. We constrain average dust production in September 2018 from Bennu’s surface to an upper limit of 150 g s–1 averaged over 34 min. Bennu’s disk-integrated photometric phase function validates measurements from the pre-encounter astronomical campaign. We demonstrate that Bennu’s rotation rate is accelerating continuously at 3.63 ± 0.52 × 10–6 degrees day–2, likely due to the Yarkovsky–O’Keefe–Radzievskii–Paddack (YORP) effect, with evolutionary implications.

     

    Scheeres et al.The dynamic geophysical environment of (101955) Bennu based on OSIRIS-REx measurements.Nature Astronomy.

    The top-shaped morphology characteristic of asteroid Bennu, often found among fast-spinning asteroids and binary asteroid primaries, may have contributed substantially to binary asteroid formation. Yet a detailed geophysical analysis of this morphology for a fast-spinning asteroid has not been possible prior to the OSIRIS-REx mission. Combining the measured Bennu mass and shape obtained during the Preliminary Survey phase of the OSIRIS-REx mission, we find a notable transition in Bennu’s surface slopes within its rotational Roche lobe, defined as the region where material is energetically trapped to the surface. As the intersection of the rotational Roche lobe with Bennu’s surface has been most recently migrating towards its equator (given Bennu’s increasing spin rate), we infer that Bennu’s surface slopes have been changing across its surface within the last million years. We also find evidence for substantial density heterogeneity within this body, suggesting that its interior is a mixture of voids and boulders. The presence of such heterogeneity and Bennu’s top shape are consistent with spin-induced failure at some point in its past, although the manner of its failure cannot yet be determined. Future measurements by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will provide insight into and may resolve questions regarding the formation and evolution of Bennu’s top-shape morphology and its link to the formation of binary asteroids.

     

    Walsh et al. Craters, boulders and regolith of (101955) Bennu indicative of an old and dynamic surface.Nature Geoscience.

    Small, kilometer-sized near-Earth asteroids are expected to have young and frequently refreshed surfaces for two reasons: collisional disruptions are frequent in the main asteroid belt where they originate, and thermal or tidal processes act on them once they become near-Earth asteroids. Here we present early measurements of numerous large candidate impact craters on near-Earth asteroid Bennu by the OSIRIS-REx mission, which indicate a surface that is between 100 million and 1 billion years old, predating Bennu’s expected duration as a near-Earth asteroid. We also observe many fractured boulders, the morphology of which suggests an influence of impact or thermal processes over a considerable amount of time since the boulders were exposed at the surface. However, the surface also shows signs of more recent mass movement: clusters of boulders at topographic lows, a deficiency of small craters and infill of large craters. The oldest features likely record events from Bennu’s time in the main asteroid belt.

     

     Enos and Lauretta. A rendezvous with asteroid Bennu.Nature Astronomy.

    The OSIRIS-REx mission has reached its target, asteroid Bennu, and is engaging in reconnaissance and early science observations in preparation for sample collection. Principal investigator team Heather Enos and Dante Lauretta provide an overview.

  7. NASA Mission Reveals Asteroid Has Big Surprises

    March 19, 2019 -

    A NASA spacecraft that will return a sample of a near-Earth asteroid named Bennu to Earth in 2023 made the first-ever close-up observations of particle plumes erupting from an asteroid’s surface. Bennu also revealed itself to be more rugged than expected, challenging the mission team to alter its flight and sample collection plans, due to the rough terrain.

    This view of asteroid Bennu ejecting particles from its surface on January 19 was created by combining two images taken by the NavCam 1 imager onboard NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft: a short exposure image (1.4 ms), which shows the asteroid clearly, and a long exposure image (5 sec), which shows the particles clearly. Other image processing techniques were also applied, such as cropping and adjusting the brightness and contrast of each layer. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/Lockheed Martin

    Bennu is the target of NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission, which began orbiting the asteroid on Dec. 31. Bennu, which is only slightly wider than the height of the Empire State Building, may contain unaltered material from the very beginning of our solar system.

    “The discovery of plumes is one of the biggest surprises of my scientific career,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “And the rugged terrain went against all of our predictions. Bennu is already surprising us, and our exciting journey there is just getting started.”

    Shortly after the discovery of the particle plumes on Jan. 6, the mission science team increased the frequency of observations, and subsequently detected additional particle plumes — also known as “ejection events” — during the following two months. Although many of the particles were ejected clear of Bennu, the team tracked some particles that orbited Bennu as satellites before returning to the asteroid’s surface.

    The OSIRIS-REx team initially spotted the particle ejection events in images while the spacecraft was orbiting Bennu at a distance of about one mile (1.61 kilometers). Following a safety assessment, the mission team concluded the particles did not pose a risk to the spacecraft. The team continues to analyze the particle ejection eventsand their possible causes.

    “The first three months of OSIRIS-REx’s up-close investigation of Bennu have reminded us what discovery is all about — surprises, quick thinking, and flexibility,” said Lori Glaze, acting director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We study asteroids like Bennu to learn about the origin of the solar system. OSIRIS-REx’s sample will help us answer some of the biggest questions about where we come from.”

    OSIRIS-REx launched in 2016 to explore Bennu, which is the smallest body ever orbited by spacecraft. Studying Bennu will allow researchers to learn more about the origins of our solar system, the sources of water and organic molecules on Earth, the resources in near-Earth space, as well as improve our understanding of asteroids that could impact Earth.

    This image shows a view across asteroid Bennu’s southern hemisphere and into space, and it demonstrates the number and distribution of boulders across Bennu’s surface. The image was obtained on Mar. 7 by the PolyCam camera on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft from a distance of about 3 miles (5 km). The large, light-colored boulder just below the center of the image is about 24 feet (7.4 meters) wide, which is roughly half the width of a basketball court. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    The OSIRIS-REx team also didn’t anticipate the number and size of boulders on Bennu’s surface. From Earth-based observations, the team expected a generally smooth surface with a few large boulders. Instead, it discovered Bennu’s entire surface is rough and dense with boulders.

    The higher-than-expected density of boulders means that the mission’s plans for sample collection, also known as Touch-and-Go (TAG), need to be adjusted. The original mission design was based on a sample site that is hazard-free, with an 82-foot (25-meter) radius. However, because of the unexpectedly rugged terrain, the team hasn’t been able to identify a site of that size on Bennu. Instead, it has begun to identify candidate sites that are much smaller in radius.

    The smaller sample site footprint and the greater number of boulders will demand more accurate performance from the spacecraft during its descent to the surface than originally planned. The mission team is developing an updated approach, called Bullseye TAG, to accurately target smaller sample sites.

    “Throughout OSIRIS-REx’s operations near Bennu, our spacecraft and operations team have demonstrated that we can achieve system performance that beats design requirements,” said Rich Burns, the project manager of OSIRIS-REx at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Bennu has issued us a challenge to deal with its rugged terrain, and we are confident that OSIRIS-REx is up to the task.”

    The original, low-boulder estimate was derived both from Earth-based observations of Bennu’s thermal inertia — or its ability to conduct and store heat — and from radar measurements of its surface roughness. Now that OSIRIS-REx has revealed Bennu’s surface up close, those expectations of a smoother surface have been proven wrong. This suggests the computer models used to interpret previous data do not adequately predict the nature of small, rocky, asteroid surfaces. The team is revising these models with the data from Bennu.

    The OSIRIS-REx science team has made many other discoveries about Bennu in the three months since the spacecraft arrived at the asteroid, some of which were presented Tuesday at the 50th Lunar and Planetary Conference in Houston and in a special collection of papers issued by the journal Nature.

    The team has directly observed a change in the spin rate of Bennu as a result of what is known as the Yarkovsky-O’Keefe-Radzievskii-Paddack (YORP) effect. The uneven heating and cooling of Bennu as it rotates in sunlight is causing the asteroid to increase its rotation speed. As a result, Bennu’s rotation period is decreasing by about one second every 100 years. Separately, two of the spacecraft’s instruments, the MapCam color imager and the OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer (OTES), have made detections of magnetite on Bennu’s surface, which bolsters earlier findings indicating the interaction of rock with liquid water on Bennu’s parent body.

    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, 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. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft Enters Orbit Around Bennu, Breaking Record

    By Lonnie Shekhtman

    January 2, 2019 -

    On Dec. 31, 2018, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft went into orbit around asteroid Bennu for the first time – — setting new records for the smallest body ever orbited by a spacecraft and the closest orbit of a planetary body by any spacecraft.

    At 2:43 p.m. EST on December 31, while many on Earth prepared to welcome the New Year, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, 70 million miles (110 million kilometers) away, carried out a single, eight-second burn of its thrusters – and broke a space exploration record. The spacecraft entered into orbit around the asteroid Bennu, and made Bennu the smallest object ever to be orbited by a spacecraft.

    “The team continued our long string of successes by executing the orbit-insertion maneuver perfectly,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “With the navigation campaign coming to an end, we are looking forward to the scientific mapping and sample site selection phase of the mission.”

    Lauretta, along with his team, spent the last day of 2018 with his feet planted on Earth, but his mind focused on space. “Entering orbit around Bennu is an amazing accomplishment that our team has been planning for years,” Lauretta said.

    Inching around the asteroid at a snail’s pace, OSIRIS-REx’s first orbit marks a leap for humankind. Never before has a spacecraft from Earth circled so close to such a small space object – one with barely enough gravity to keep a vehicle in a stable orbit.

    Now, the spacecraft will circle Bennu about a mile (1.75 kilometers) from its center, closer than any other spacecraft has come to its celestial object of study. (Previously the closest orbit of a planetary body was in May 2016, when the Rosetta spacecraft orbited about four miles (seven kilometers) from the center of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.) The comfortable distance is necessary to keep the spacecraft locked to Bennu, which has a gravity force only 5-millionths as strong as Earth’s. The spacecraft is scheduled to orbit Bennu through mid-February at a leisurely 62 hours per orbit.

    Now that the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is closer to Bennu, physical details about the asteroid will leap into sharper focus, and the spacecraft’s tour of this rubble pile of primordial debris will become increasingly detailed and focused.

    “Our orbit design is highly dependent on Bennu’s physical properties, such as its mass and gravity field, which we didn’t know before we arrived,” said OSIRIS-REx’s flight dynamics system manager Mike Moreau, who is based at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

    “Up until now, we had to account for a wide variety of possible scenarios in our computer simulations to make sure we could safely navigate the spacecraft so close to Bennu. As the team learned more about the asteroid, we incorporated new information to hone in on the final orbit design,” he said.

    The simulations have played a critical role. The OSIRIS-REx mission, after all, was designed based on complex computer programs that predicted — quite accurately, as it turns out — the properties of Bennu and how the spacecraft’s trajectory would behave. This diligent preparation allowed the team to navigate the vehicle safely to Bennu in December and put some questions to rest (there are, indeed, signs of ancient water preserved in Bennu’s rocks) and to fly over its poles and equator in a preliminary survey that led to some surprises (Bennu has many large boulders).

    Having completed the preliminary survey of Bennu with a flyby of its south pole on December 16, the spacecraft moved to a safe 31 miles (50 kilometers) away from the asteroid to give the navigation team a chance to regroup and prepare for orbit insertion. Next, Lockheed Martin engineers programmed the spacecraft to begin moving back to a position about nine miles (15 kilometers) over Bennu’s north pole to prepare for three burns of its thrusters over the course of 10 days that would place the spacecraft into orbit.

    Even though OSIRIS-REx is in the most stable orbit possible, Bennu’s gravitational pull is so tenuous that keeping the spacecraft safe will require occasional adjustments, said Dan Wibben, OSIRIS-REx maneuver and trajectory design lead at KinetX Aerospace in Simi Valley, California.

    “The gravity of Bennu is so small, forces like solar radiation and thermal pressure from Bennu’s surface become much more relevant and can push the spacecraft around in its orbit much more than if it were orbiting around Earth or Mars, where gravity is by far the most dominant force,” he said.

    The OSIRIS-REx navigation team will use “trim” maneuvers to slightly thrust the spacecraft in one direction or another to correct its orbit and counter these small forces. If the spacecraft drifts away from Bennu, or some other problem forces it into safe mode, it has been programmed to fly away from the asteroid to stay safe from impact.

    “It’s simple logic: always burn toward the Sun if something goes wrong,” said Coralie Adam, OSIRIS-REx lead optical navigation engineer at KinetX. Engineers can navigate the spacecraft back into orbit if it drifts away, Adam said, though that’s unlikely to happen.

    The navigation and spacecraft operations teams are focused on the first orbital phase. Their primary goal is to transition away from star-based navigation, which allowed the team to locate the spacecraft based on pictures of the star formations around it taken by the cameras onboard. Navigators use methods like this since there is no GPS in deep space and we can’t see the spacecraft from Earth-based telescopes. From this point forward, though, the OSIRIS-REx team will rely on landmarks on Bennu’s surface to track OSIRIS-REx, a more precise technique that will ultimately guide them to a sample-collection site clear of boulders and large rocks, said Adam.

    “After conducting a global imaging and mapping campaign during our recent preliminary survey phase, the science team has created 3-D models of Bennu’s terrain that we’re going to begin using for navigation around the asteroid,” she said.

    Another critical objective of this orbital phase, Adam said, is to get a better handle on Bennu’s mass and gravity, features that will influence the planning of the rest of the mission, notably the short touchdown on the surface for sample collection in 2020. In the case of Bennu, scientists can only measure these features by getting OSIRIS-REx very close to the surface to see how its trajectory bends from Bennu’s gravitational pull.

    “The Orbital A phase will help improve our detailed models for Bennu’s gravity field, thermal properties, orientation, and spin rate,” said Wibben. “This, in turn, will allow us to refine our trajectory designs for the even more challenging flight activities we will perform in 2019.”

    The December 31 maneuver to place the spacecraft into orbit about Bennu is the first of many exciting navigation activities planned for the mission. The OSIRIS-REx team will resume science operations in late February. At that point, the spacecraft will perform a series of close flybys of Bennu for several months to take high-resolution images of every square inch of the asteroid to help select a sampling site. During the summer of 2020, the spacecraft will briefly touch the surface of Bennu to retrieve a sample. The OSIRIS-REx mission is scheduled to deliver the sample to Earth in September 2023.

    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, 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.

  9. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft Enters Close Orbit Around Bennu, Breaking Record

    By Lonnie Shekhtman

    December 31, 2018 -

    On Dec. 31, 2018, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft went into orbit around asteroid Bennu for the first time.

    At 2:43 p.m. EST on December 31, while many on Earth prepared to welcome the New Year, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, 70 million miles (110 million kilometers) away, carried out a single, eight-second burn of its thrusters – and broke a space exploration record. The spacecraft entered into orbit around the asteroid Bennu, and made Bennu the smallest object ever to be orbited by a spacecraft.

    “The team continued our long string of successes by executing the orbit-insertion maneuver perfectly,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “With the navigation campaign coming to an end, we are looking forward to the scientific mapping and sample site selection phase of the mission.”

    Lauretta, along with his team, spent the last day of 2018 with his feet planted on Earth, but his mind focused on space. “Entering orbit around Bennu is an amazing accomplishment that our team has been planning for years,” Lauretta said.

    Inching around the asteroid at a snail’s pace, OSIRIS-REx’s first orbit marks a leap for humankind. Never before has a spacecraft from Earth circled so close to such a small space object – one with barely enough gravity to keep a vehicle in a stable orbit.

    Now, the spacecraft will circle Bennu about a mile (1.75 kilometers) from its center, closer than any other spacecraft has come to its celestial object of study. (Previously the closest orbit of a planetary body was in May 2016, when the Rosetta spacecraft orbited about four miles (seven kilometers) from the center of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.) The comfortable distance is necessary to keep the spacecraft locked to Bennu, which has a gravity force only 5-millionths as strong as Earth’s. The spacecraft is scheduled to orbit Bennu through mid-February at a leisurely 62 hours per orbit.

    Now that the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is closer to Bennu, physical details about the asteroid will leap into sharper focus, and the spacecraft’s tour of this rubble pile of primordial debris will become increasingly detailed and focused.

    “Our orbit design is highly dependent on Bennu’s physical properties, such as its mass and gravity field, which we didn’t know before we arrived,” said OSIRIS-REx’s flight dynamics system manager Mike Moreau, who is based at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

    “Up until now, we had to account for a wide variety of possible scenarios in our computer simulations to make sure we could safely navigate the spacecraft so close to Bennu. As the team learned more about the asteroid, we incorporated new information to hone in on the final orbit design,” he said.

    The simulations have played a critical role. The OSIRIS-REx mission, after all, was designed based on complex computer programs that predicted — quite accurately, as it turns out — the properties of Bennu and how the spacecraft’s trajectory would behave. This diligent preparation allowed the team to navigate the vehicle safely to Bennu in December and put some questions to rest (there are, indeed, signs of ancient water preserved in Bennu’s rocks) and to fly over its poles and equator in a preliminary survey that led to some surprises (Bennu has many large boulders).

    Having completed the preliminary survey of Bennu with a flyby of its south pole on December 16, the spacecraft moved to a safe 31 miles (50 kilometers) away from the asteroid to give the navigation team a chance to regroup and prepare for orbit insertion. Next, Lockheed Martin engineers programmed the spacecraft to begin moving back to a position about nine miles (15 kilometers) over Bennu’s north pole to prepare for three burns of its thrusters over the course of 10 days that would place the spacecraft into orbit.

    Even though OSIRIS-REx is in the most stable orbit possible, Bennu’s gravitational pull is so tenuous that keeping the spacecraft safe will require occasional adjustments, said Dan Wibben, OSIRIS-REx maneuver and trajectory design lead at KinetX Aerospace in Simi Valley, California.

    “The gravity of Bennu is so small, forces like solar radiation and thermal pressure from Bennu’s surface become much more relevant and can push the spacecraft around in its orbit much more than if it were orbiting around Earth or Mars, where gravity is by far the most dominant force,” he said.

    The OSIRIS-REx navigation team will use “trim” maneuvers to slightly thrust the spacecraft in one direction or another to correct its orbit and counter these small forces. If the spacecraft drifts away from Bennu, or some other problem forces it into safe mode, it has been programmed to fly away from the asteroid to stay safe from impact.

    “It’s simple logic: always burn toward the Sun if something goes wrong,” said Coralie Adam, OSIRIS-REx lead optical navigation engineer at KinetX. Engineers can navigate the spacecraft back into orbit if it drifts away, Adam said, though that’s unlikely to happen.

    The navigation and spacecraft operations teams are focused on the first orbital phase. Their primary goal is to transition away from star-based navigation, which allowed the team to locate the spacecraft based on pictures of the star formations around it taken by the cameras onboard. Navigators use methods like this since there is no GPS in deep space and we can’t see the spacecraft from Earth-based telescopes. From this point forward, though, the OSIRIS-REx team will rely on landmarks on Bennu’s surface to track OSIRIS-REx, a more precise technique that will ultimately guide them to a sample-collection site clear of boulders and large rocks, said Adam.

    “After conducting a global imaging and mapping campaign during our recent preliminary survey phase, the science team has created 3-D models of Bennu’s terrain that we’re going to begin using for navigation around the asteroid,” she said.

    Another critical objective of this orbital phase, Adam said, is to get a better handle on Bennu’s mass and gravity, features that will influence the planning of the rest of the mission, notably the short touchdown on the surface for sample collection in 2020. In the case of Bennu, scientists can only measure these features by getting OSIRIS-REx very close to the surface to see how its trajectory bends from Bennu’s gravitational pull.

    “The Orbital A phase will help improve our detailed models for Bennu’s gravity field, thermal properties, orientation, and spin rate,” said Wibben. “This, in turn, will allow us to refine our trajectory designs for the even more challenging flight activities we will perform in 2019.”

    The December 31 maneuver to place the spacecraft into orbit about Bennu is the first of many exciting navigation activities planned for the mission. The OSIRIS-REx team will resume science operations in late February. At that point, the spacecraft will perform a series of close flybys of Bennu for several months to take high-resolution images of every square inch of the asteroid to help select a sampling site. During the summer of 2020, the spacecraft will briefly touch the surface of Bennu to retrieve a sample. The OSIRIS-REx mission is scheduled to deliver the sample to Earth in September 2023.

    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, 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.

  10. NASA’s Newly Arrived OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft Already Discovers Water on Asteroid

    December 10, 2018 -

    Recently analyzed data from NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission has revealed water locked inside the clays that make up its scientific target, the asteroid Bennu.

    This mosaic image of asteroid Bennu is composed of 12 PolyCam images collected on Dec. 2 by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft from a range of 15 miles (24 km).
    Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    During the mission’s approach phase, between mid-August and early December, the spacecraft traveled 1.4 million miles (2.2 million km) on its journey from Earth to arrive at a location 12 miles (19 km) from Bennu on Dec. 3. During this time, the science team on Earth aimed three of the spacecraft’s instruments towards Bennu and began making the mission’s first scientific observations of the asteroid. OSIRIS-REx is NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission.

    Data obtained from the spacecraft’s two spectrometers, the OSIRIS-REx Visible and Infrared Spectrometer (OVIRS) and the OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer (OTES), reveal the presence of molecules that contain oxygen and hydrogen atoms bonded together, known as “hydroxyls.” The team suspects that these hydroxyl groups exist globally across the asteroid in water-bearing clay minerals, meaning that at some point, Bennu’s rocky material interacted with water. While Bennu itself is too small to have ever hosted liquid water, the finding does indicate that liquid water was present at some time on Bennu’s parent body, a much larger asteroid.

    “The presence of hydrated minerals across the asteroid confirms that Bennu, a remnant from early in the formation of the solar system, is an excellent specimen for the OSIRIS-REx mission to study the composition of primitive volatiles and organics,” said Amy Simon, OVIRS deputy instrument scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “When samples of this material are returned by the mission to Earth in 2023, scientists will receive a treasure trove of new information about the history and evolution of our solar system.”

    Additionally, data obtained from the OSIRIS-REx Camera Suite (OCAMS) corroborate ground-based telescopic observations of Bennu and confirm the original model developed in 2013 by OSIRIS-REx Science Team Chief Michael Nolan and collaborators. That model closely predicted the asteroid’s actual shape, with Bennu’s diameter, rotation rate, inclination, and overall shape presented almost exactly as projected.

    This preliminary shape model of asteroid Bennu was created from a compilation of images taken by OSIRIS-REx’s PolyCam camera during the spacecraft’s approach toward Bennu during the month of November. This 3D shape model shows features on Bennu as small as six meters.
    Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    One outlier from the predicted shape model is the size of the large boulder near Bennu’s south pole. The ground-based shape model calculated this boulder to be at least 33 feet (10 meters) in height. Preliminary calculations from OCAMS observations show that the boulder is closer to 164 feet (50 meters) in height, with a width of approximately 180 feet (55 meters).

    Bennu’s surface material is a mix of very rocky, boulder-filled regions and a few relatively smooth regions that lack boulders. However, the quantity of boulders on the surface is higher than expected. The team will make further observations at closer ranges to more accurately assess where a sample can be taken on Bennu to later be returned to Earth.

    “Our initial data show that the team picked the right asteroid as the target of the OSIRIS-REx mission. We have not discovered any insurmountable issues at Bennu so far,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “The spacecraft is healthy and the science instruments are working better than required. It is time now for our adventure to begin.”

    The mission currently is performing a preliminary survey of the asteroid, flying the spacecraft in passes over Bennu’s north pole, equator, and south pole at ranges as close as 4.4 miles (7 km) to better determine the asteroid’s mass. The mission’s scientists and engineers must know the mass of the asteroid in order to design the spacecraft’s insertion into orbit because mass affects the asteroid’s gravitational pull on the spacecraft. Knowing Bennu’s mass will also help the science team understand the asteroid’s structure and composition.

    This survey also provides the first opportunity for the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA), an instrument contributed by the Canadian Space Agency, to make observations, now that the spacecraft is in proximity to Bennu.

    The spacecraft’s first orbital insertion is scheduled for Dec. 31, and OSIRIS-REx will remain in orbit until mid-February 2019, when it exits to initiate another series of flybys for the next survey phase. During the first orbital phase, the spacecraft will orbit the asteroid at a range of 0.9 miles (1.4 km) to 1.24 miles (2.0 km) from the center of Bennu — setting new records for the smallest body ever orbited by a spacecraft and the closest orbit of a planetary body by any spacecraft.

    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, and the University of Arizona also leads the science team and the mission’s science observation planning and data processing. Lockheed Martin Space Systems 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. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the agency’s New Frontiers Program for the Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

  11. NASA’S OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft Arrives at Asteroid Bennu

    December 3, 2018 -

    NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft completed its 1.2 billion-mile (2 billion-kilometer) journey to arrive at the asteroid Bennu Monday. The spacecraft executed a maneuver that transitioned it from flying toward Bennu to operating around the asteroid.

    This series of images taken by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft shows Bennu in one full rotation from a distance of around 50 miles (80 km). The spacecraft’s PolyCam camera obtained the 36 2.2-millisecond frames over a period of four hours and 18 minutes. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    Now, at about 11.8 miles (19 kilometers) from Bennu’s Sun-facing surface, OSIRIS-REx will begin a preliminary survey of the asteroid. The spacecraft will commence flyovers of Bennu’s north pole, equatorial region, and south pole, getting as close as nearly 4 miles (7 kilometers) above Bennu during each flyover.

    The primary science goals of this survey are to refine estimates of Bennu’s mass and spin rate, and to generate a more precise model of its shape. The data will help determine potential sites for later sample collection.

    OSIRIS-REx’s mission will help scientists investigate how planets formed and how life began, as well as improve our understanding of asteroids that could impact Earth. Asteroids are remnants of the building blocks that formed the planets and enabled life. Those like Bennu contain natural resources, such as water, organics and metals. Future space exploration and economic development may rely on asteroids for these materials.

    “As explorers, we at NASA have never shied away from the most extreme challenges in the solar system in our quest for knowledge,” said Lori Glaze, acting director for NASA’s Planetary Science Division. “Now we’re at it again, working with our partners in the U.S. and Canada to accomplish the Herculean task of bringing back to Earth a piece of the early solar system.”

    The mission’s navigation team will use the preliminary survey of Bennu to practice the delicate task of navigating around the asteroid. The spacecraft will enter orbit around Bennu on Dec. 31 –thus making Bennu, which is only about 1,600 feet (492 meters) across — or about the length of five football fields — the smallest object ever orbited by a spacecraft. It’s a critical step in OSIRIS-REx’s years-long quest to collect and eventually deliver at least two ounces (60 grams) of regolith — dirt and rocks — from Bennu to Earth.

    Starting in October, OSIRIS-REx performed a series of braking maneuvers to slow the spacecraft down as it approached Bennu. These maneuvers also targeted a trajectory to set up Monday’s maneuver, which initiates the first north pole flyover and marks the spacecraft’s arrival at Bennu.

    “The OSIRIS-REx team is proud to cross another major milestone off our list — asteroid arrival,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “Initial data from the approach phase show this object to have exceptional scientific value. We can’t wait to start our exploration of Bennu in earnest. We’ve been preparing for this moment for years, and we’re ready.”

    OSIRIS-REx mission marks many firsts in space exploration. It will be the first U.S. mission to carry samples from an asteroid back to Earth and the largest sample returned from space since the Apollo era. It’s the first to study a primitive B-type asteroid, which is an asteroid that’s rich in carbon and organic molecules that make up life on Earth. It is also the first mission to study a potentially hazardous asteroid and try to determine the factors that alter their courses to bring them close to Earth.

    “During our approach toward Bennu, we have taken observations at much higher resolution than were available from Earth,” said Rich Burns, the project manager of OSIRIS-REx at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “These observations have revealed an asteroid that is both consistent with our expectations from ground-based measurements and an exceptionally interesting small world. Now we embark on gaining experience flying our spacecraft about such a small body.”

    When OSIRIS-REx begins to orbit Bennu at the end of this month, it will come close to approximately three quarters of a mile (1.25 kilometers) to its surface. In February 2019, the spacecraft begins efforts to globally map Bennu to determine the best site for sample collection. After the collection site is selected, the spacecraft will briefly touch the surface of Bennu to retrieve a sample. OSIRIS-REx is scheduled to return the sample to Earth in September 2023.

    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, 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.

  12. TAGSAM Testing Complete: OSIRIS-REx Prepared to TAG an Asteroid

    By Christine Hoekenga

    November 16, 2018 -

    On Nov. 14, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft stretched out its robotic sampling arm for the first time in space. The arm, more formally known as the Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM), is key to the spacecraft achieving the primary goal of the mission: returning a sample from asteroid Bennu in 2023.

    OSIRIS-REx's TAGSAM Head as Imaged by SamCam

    This image, showing the OSIRIS-REx Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) sampling head extended from the spacecraft at the end of the TAGSAM arm, was taken by the SamCam camera on Nov. 14, 2018 during a visual checkout of the spacecraft’s sampling system. A similar observation will be taken after TAG to help document the asteroid material collected in the TAGSAM head. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    As planned, engineers at Lockheed Martin commanded the spacecraft to move the arm through its full range of motion – flexing its shoulder, elbow, and wrist “joints.” This long-awaited stretch, which was confirmed by telemetry data and imagery captured by the spacecraft’s SamCam camera, demonstrates that the TAGSAM head is ready to collect a sample of loose dirt and rock (called regolith) from Bennu’s surface.

    “The TAGSAM exercise is an important milestone, as the prime objective of the OSIRIS-REx mission is to return a sample of Bennu to Earth,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “This successful test shows that, when the time comes, TAGSAM is ready to reach out and tag the asteroid.”

    Years of innovation

    Lockheed Martin engineers spent more than a decade designing, building, and testing TAGSAM, which includes an 11-foot (3.35-meter) arm with three articulating joints, a round sampler head at the end of the arm that resembles the air filter in a car, and three bottles of high-pressure nitrogen gas.

    This test deployment was a rehearsal for a date in mid-2020 when the spacecraft will unfold the TAGSAM arm again, slowly descend to Bennu’s surface, and briefly touch the asteroid with the sampler head. A burst of nitrogen gas will stir up regolith on the asteroid’s surface, which will be caught in the TAGSAM head. The TAG sequence will take about five seconds, after which the spacecraft will execute small maneuvers to carefully back away from Bennu. Afterward, SamCam will image the sampler head, as it did during the test deployment, to help confirm that TAGSAM collected at least 2.1 ounces (60 grams) of regolith.

    The TAGSAM mechanism was designed for the key challenge unique to the OSIRIS-REx mission: collecting a sample from the smallest planetary body ever to be orbited by a spacecraft. “First-of-its-kind innovations like this one serve as the precursor for future missions to small bodies,” said Sandy Freund, systems engineer manager and Lockheed Martin OSIRIS-REx MSA manager. “By proving out these technologies and techniques, we are going to be able to return the largest sample from space in half a century and pave the way for other missions.”

    A month of testing

    The unfolding of the TAGSAM arm was the latest and most significant step in a series of tests and check-outs of the spacecraft’s sampling system, which began in October when OSIRIS-REx jettisoned the cover that protected the TAGSAM head during launch and the mission’s outbound cruise phase. Shortly before the cover ejection, and again the day after, OSIRIS-REx performed two spins called Sample Mass Measurements. By comparing the spacecraft’s inertial properties during these before-and-after spins, the team confirmed that the 2.67-pound (1.21-kilogram) cover was successfully ejected on Oct. 17.

    A week later, on Oct. 25, the Frangibolts holding the TAGSAM arm in place fired successfully, releasing the arm and allowing the team to move it into a parked position just outside its protective housing. After resting in this position for a few weeks, the arm was fully deployed into its sampling position, its joints were tested, and images were captured with SamCam. The spacecraft will execute two additional Sample Mass Measurements over the next two days. The mission team will use these spins as a baseline to compare with the results of similar spins that will be conducted after TAG in 2020 in order to confirm the mass of the sample collected.

    Although the sampling system was rigorously tested on Earth, this rehearsal marked the first time that the team has deployed TAGSAM in the micro-gravity environment of space.

    “The team is very pleased that TAGSAM has been released, deployed, and is operating as commanded through its full range of motion.” said Rich Burns, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “It has been restrained for over two years since launch, so it is gratifying to see it out of its shackles and performing well.”

    OSIRIS-REx is scheduled to arrive at Bennu on Dec. 3. It will spend nearly one year surveying the asteroid with five scientific instruments so that the mission team can select a location that is safe and scientifically interesting to collect the sample.

    “Now that we have put TAGSAM through its paces in space and know it is ready to perform at Bennu, we can focus on the challenges of navigating around the asteroid and seeking out the best possible sample site,” said Lauretta.

  13. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Executes Fourth Asteroid Approach Maneuver

    November 13, 2018 -

    Artist’s conception of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft during a burn of its Attitude Control System (ACS) thrusters.

    NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft executed its fourth Asteroid Approach Maneuver (AAM-4) yesterday. The spacecraft fired its Attitude Control System (ACS) thrusters to slow the spacecraft from approximately 0.31 mph (0.14 m/sec) to 0.10 mph (0.04 m/sec). The ACS thrusters are capable of velocity changes as small as 0.02 mph (0.01 m/sec). The mission team will continue to examine telemetry and tracking data over the next week to verify the new trajectory. The maneuver targeted the spacecraft to fly through a corridor designed for the collection of high-resolution images that will be used to build a shape model of Bennu.

    With the execution of AAM-4, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft concludes a six-week series of Bennu approach maneuvers. AAM-1 and AAM-2, which executed on Oct. 1 and Oct. 15 respectively, slowed the spacecraft by a total of approximately 1,088 mph (486 m/sec). AAM-3 and AAM-3A, which executed on Oct. 29 and Nov. 5 respectively, further refined the spacecraft’s trajectory and speed to set the conditions for a successful AAM-4 maneuver. After a final correction maneuver scheduled for Nov. 30, the spacecraft will be on track to arrive at a position 12 miles (20 km) from Bennu on Dec. 3.

  14. Behind the Scenes of REXIS: Uncovering an Instrument in Flight

    By Rebecca Masterson, REXIS Instrument Program Manager

    November 13, 2018 -

    On Sept. 14, OSIRIS-REx’s REXIS instrument opened its radiation cover, as scheduled, after two years in space. The cover had been in place to protect REXIS’s charge-coupled devices (CCDs) from degradation due to radiation exposure during the spacecraft’s cruise to Bennu. The REXIS student team designed and built the cover with input from MIT and NASA Goddard mentors and members of the OSIRIS-REx review board.

    Figure 1: CAD model of the REXIS cover in the closed position, showing the Frangibolt housing and cover heater. The flight instrument also includes a heater on the Frangibolt housing that is not shown here.

    Since its installation, the radiation cover had been held closed with a titanium bolt that was threaded through a TiNi Aerospace FD04 Frangibolt and a switch washer (see Figure 1). When it was time to release the cover, the team sent REXIS a command to heat the Frangibolt until the shape memory alloy expanded. This put the bolt under tension, causing structural failure, so that the cover was free to swing open. The switch washer sensed the change in pre-load at the joint and sent a signal to the REXIS electronics board to cut power to the Frangibolt, stopping the activity.

    Figure 2: Photo of the REXIS flight instrument (before spacecraft integration) with radiation cover open. This configuration is the most-likely current configuration of the instrument on-board OSIRIS-REx after firing the Frangibolt.

    In the event that the switch washer did not work as expected, the team had also set a software timer to end the actuation activity in order to ensure that the Frangibolt did not overheat. The exact time needed to actuate the Frangibolt was unknown, as it depended heavily on the temperatures of the actuator and the cover as well as the pre-load in the joint. Therefore, the REXIS team tested both the flight instrument and spare covers in advance to try to set this timer correctly. Three attempts to open the instrument were planned, each with a slightly longer timer setting.

    For the first attempt, the team set the REXIS firing timer to 57 seconds. If the switch washer didn’t show actuation in that time, the bolt was programmed to turn off. The firing command was sent to the instrument at about 16:32 UTC. Fifty-five seconds later, the switch washer indicated that the Frangibolt had actuated … with only two seconds to spare. Kudos to the team that tested the spare cover over various temperature ranges in order to guide us to such a perfect timer setting.

    We also saw evidence of the firing in the onboard instrument temperature sensors: the housing temperature and the CCD temperature both decreased after the firing, which indicated that the cover was no longer conductively connected to the instrument tower (see Figure 3).

     

    Figure 3: The REXIS housekeeping temperatures before and after firing also show changes expected with the cover open. Both the CCD temperatures (top plot) and the Frangibolt housing temperature (middle plot, “Frangibolt”) decrease after the firing event indicating that the cover and its heater are no longer thermally coupled to the rest of the instrument.

     

    The duty cycle of the housing heater and the cover heater also changed as expected. The REXIS Frangibolt housing heater stayed on after the cover opening  since the housing is no longer getting heat from the cover heater. The cover heater duty cycle has also lengthened since the thermal mass has decreased (see Figure 4).

     

    Figure 4: REXIS cover heater current values during the cover opening event. Before the cover was open both the housing heater and the cover heater were cycling with a short duty cycle. The changes in the data after the firing attempt indicate that the housing heater is now always on and the cover heater is cycling less frequently. This behavior is expected in the cover open state.

     

    REXIS took 30 minutes of science data before and after the Frangibolt firing so we could compare the spectra. With the cover open, we were expecting to see an increase in the rate of events detected by the CCDs, dominantly in the low energy portion of the x-ray spectrum due to the Cosmic X-ray Background (CXB). The cover included an Fe-55 calibration source that shone on the CCDs and had been used to monitor the instrument status for its two years in flight. Opening the cover removed that source from the field of view of the CCDs, so we also expected to see a decrease in the Fe-55 energy detected. As expected, the rate of events detected by the CCDs increased, as shown in Figure 4. The x-ray spectrum from one of the instrument’s highest performing CCD nodes is shown in Figure 5.

    Figure 5: Rate of X-ray events detected by the CCDs during the cover opening activity. The detected event rate has a discontinuous step in the 30 minutes before and after the cover opened. The increase in the event rate is due to diffuse x-ray emission of the cosmic x-ray background as expected with an open cover.

    The x-ray spectrum measured in the low energy range increased, just as expected for the CXB ,while the calibration source signal from Fe-55 became less pronounced. The data in Figure 5 and Figure 6 are consistent with a fully open REXIS cover.

    Figure 6: The x-ray spectrum is a measure of the number of events detected by the CCDs as a function of energy. The red line is the x-ray spectra detected by one of the highest-performing nodes in the REXIS detector array before the cover opened. There is a peak 5.9 keV (the blue shaded region) from the cover-mounted internal Fe-55 x-ray calibration source. The low energy spectrum is due to only internal noise. The spectrum after the cover opened for the same node (black line) shows detection of a low-energy continuum consistent with predictions of the cosmic x-ray background (blue dashed line) and a weakening of the Fe-55 line indicating that the instrument is now looking at cosmic x-rays from space instead of the underside of the cover.

    Given both this science and engineering data, we are confident that our radiation cover is open and out of the field of view of the REXIS CCDs. Now the REXIS team can start doing real external calibrations. REXIS will be looking at some Cosmic X-Ray Background (CXB) in early October and then will turn to check out the Crab Nebula in November.

  15. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Executes Third Asteroid Approach Maneuver

    October 29, 2018 -

    Artist’s conception of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft during a burn of its trajectory correction maneuver (TCM) engines.

    NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft executed its third Asteroid Approach Maneuver (AAM-3) today. The trajectory correction maneuver (TCM) thrusters fired in a series of two braking maneuvers designed to slow the spacecraft’s speed relative to Bennu from approximately 11.7 mph (5.2 m/sec) to .24 mph (.11 m/sec). Due to constraints that science instruments not be pointed too closely to the Sun, this maneuver was designed as two separate burns of approximately 5.8 mph (2.6 m/sec) each, to accomplish a net change in velocity of around 11.5 mph (5.13 m/sec). The mission team will continue to examine telemetry and tracking data over the next week to verify the new trajectory. The maneuver targeted the spacecraft to fly through a corridor designed for the collection of high-resolution images that will be used to build a shape model of Bennu.

    The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is in the midst of a six-week series of final approach maneuvers. AAM-1 and AAM-2, which executed on Oct. 1 and Oct. 15 respectively, slowed the spacecraft by a total of approximately 1,088 mph (486 m/sec). The last of the burns, AAM-4, is scheduled for Nov. 12 and will adjust the spacecraft’s trajectory to arrive at a position 12 miles (20 km) from Bennu on Dec. 3.

  16. Safety & Science: OSIRIS-REx on the Lookout for Hazards During Approach

    By Christine Hoekenga

    October 17, 2018 -

    An artist’s concept of OSIRIS-REx searching for dust plumes in the vicinity of asteroid Bennu. Credit: University of Arizona

    On Sept. 12, OSIRIS-REx pointed its medium-range science camera, MapCam, toward asteroid Bennu 621,000 miles (one million kilometers) in the distance. Slewing gently side to side and up and down as it captured 64 images, the spacecraft scanned the area around the asteroid in a carefully choreographed pattern. The day before, it had collected a similar mosaic of images with its long-range science camera, PolyCam.

    Over the next few days, scientists on the ground pored over the images, looking for any signs of dust in the vicinity of the asteroid, which could present a hazard to the spacecraft as it approaches. Ultimately, they determined that the coast is clear – for now.

    But OSIRIS-REx will look for natural satellites (small moons) and conduct another search for dust plumes when the spacecraft is closer to Bennu.

    No dust was detected in this MapCam image of the area around Bennu (circled in green) taken Sept. 12, 2018 during OSIRIS-REx’s first Dust Plume Search. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    While comets, with their characteristic tails and comas, are known for releasing plumes of volatile materials like ice, gas, and dust, this behavior has also been observed in some asteroids. If dust had been visible in the images collected in mid-September, it would have suggested that Bennu had comet-like plume activity in the recent past, probably in the weeks or months before OSIRIS-REx conducted its first dust search.

    Although OSIRIS-REx is designed to withstand the rigors of spaceflight and the occasional collision with stray particles, flying through a dust plume would pose a risk to the spacecraft’s instruments and solar panels. If the mission team had identified plume activity in the images, they had contingency plans to execute a braking maneuver, placing the spacecraft at a safe distance so that the dust activity could be studied further.

    The existence of dust plumes would suggest that Bennu has active deposits of ice or other volatiles. Finding frozen water on the asteroid would be an exciting result for mission scientists who are in part studying Bennu to understand whether asteroids could have been the delivery mechanism for the water and organic materials needed to seed life on Earth billions of years ago. Plumes would also have implications for where OSIRIS-REx could safely collect a sample of material from Bennu’s surface in 2020 – and what types of material would likely be in that sample.

    A view of Comet 67P backlit by the Sun makes plumes coming off the comet’s surface highly visible. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM

    “We probably wouldn’t want to sample too near a vent for safety reasons,” says Carl Hergenrother, the OSIRIS-REx Astronomy Working Group Lead, who helped plan the hazard searches. “But it would be interesting since plumes mean that there could be subsurface volatile material nearby.”

    OSIRIS-REx’s second dust plume search, scheduled for two days in Spring 2019 when the spacecraft will be about 3.1 miles (five kilometers) from Bennu, will look for active dust plumes coming off Bennu’s surface. For those observations, the spacecraft will be positioned between the Sun and the asteroid (at a high phase angle) so that Bennu is backlit and any dust plumes are more visible. Some of the 13 mosaics that the spacecraft captures will include offset images of the asteroid so that any jets coming from the surface are easier to see against the dark backdrop of space.

    Dust isn’t the only potential hazard that OSIRIS-REx is looking out for. Later this fall, the spacecraft will use PolyCam and MapCam to search for natural satellites – any chunk of rock orbiting Bennu that is larger than 10 centimeters and bright enough to be seen (which requires an albedo of at least 0.03). While most asteroids exert a weak gravitational pull due to their relatively small sizes (Bennu has a diameter of roughly 500 meters), they are capable of holding small moons in orbit around themselves. In fact, asteroid 243 Ida, the second asteroid ever visited by a spacecraft, surprised scientists when images from the Galileo mission revealed it had a small moon, now called Dactyl.

    Asteroid Ida and its moon, Dactyl

    243 Ida is the second asteroid visited by a spacecraft (Galileo) and the first found to have its own moon. Credit: NASA/JPL

    To look for moons, two of OSIRIS-REx’s cameras will again capture a series of carefully planned mosaics covering the area around Bennu. First, PolyCam will map the asteroid’s entire Hill Sphere (the area where a satellite could theoretically exist), looking for objects that are one meter or larger. Then, as the spacecraft gets closer, MapCam will conduct a search pattern for smaller satellites (down to 10 centimeters), which could only exist in a stable orbit closer to Bennu.

    Similar to a dust plume discovery, if OSIRIS-REx were to detect a natural satellite orbiting Bennu, it would trigger a contingency plan. The spacecraft would conduct a braking burn and stop its approach to the asteroid about 40 or 50 kilometers out. The team would then take a few weeks to closely map the moon’s orbit around Bennu and decide whether any changes need to be made to the mission plan for the spacecraft to safely avoid the satellite. Later on, the team would study the moon in more depth, collecting images and other data about its color, reflectivity, shape, size, and other features.

     

    Also similar to a dust plume detection, a moon would be an interesting scientific discovery. “If we did find a satellite, mapping its orbit would allow us to refine the mass of Bennu before going into orbit around the asteroid or even doing close approaches,” says Hergenrother. “It would also tell us more about Bennu’s history.”

    While potential hazards like dust and natural satellites present navigation, safety and other challenges, they are part of the inherent adventure of exploring a never-before-visited world. Although Bennu has been thoroughly studied from Earth, the asteroid may have many surprises in store for the mission team. Careful planning and thorough observation strategies will ensure that these surprises are transformed from potential hazards into new scientific knowledge.

  17. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Executes Second Asteroid Approach Maneuver

    October 15, 2018 -

    NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft executed its second Asteroid Approach Maneuver (AAM-2) today. The spacecraft’s main engine thrusters fired in a braking maneuver designed to slow the spacecraft’s speed relative to Bennu from 315 mph (141 m/sec) to 11.8 mph (5.2 m/sec). Likewise, the spacecraft’s approach speed dropped from nearly 7,580 miles (12,200 km) to 280 miles (450 km) per day.

    Artist’s conception of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft during a burn of its main engine. Credit: University of Arizona

    The mission team will continue to examine telemetry and tracking data and will have more information over the next week. This burn marked the last planned use of the spacecraft’s main engines prior to OSIRIS-REx’s departure from Bennu in March 2021.

    The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is in the midst of a six-week series of maneuvers designed to fly the spacecraft through a precise corridor toward Bennu. AAM-1, which executed on Oct. 1, slowed the spacecraft by 785.831 mph (351.298 m/sec) and consumed 532.4 pounds (241.5 kilograms) of fuel. AAM-3 is schedule for October 29. The last of the burns, AAM-4, is scheduled for November 12 and will adjust the spacecraft’s trajectory to arrive at a position 12 miles (20 km) from Bennu on December 3. After arrival, the spacecraft will perform a series of fly-bys over Bennu’s poles and equator.

  18. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Executes First Asteroid Approach Maneuver

    October 1, 2018 -

    NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft executed its first Asteroid Approach Maneuver (AAM-1) today putting it on course for its scheduled arrival at the asteroid Bennu in December.

    Artist’s conception of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft during a burn of its main engine. Credit: University of Arizona

    The spacecraft’s main engine thrusters fired in a braking maneuver designed to slow the spacecraft’s speed relative to Bennu from approximately 1,100 mph (491 m/sec) to 313 mph (140 m/sec). The mission team will continue to examine telemetry and tracking data as they become available and will have more information on the results of the maneuver over the next week.

    During the next six weeks, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will continue executing the series of asteroid approach maneuvers designed to fly the spacecraft through a precise corridor during its final slow approach to Bennu. The last of these, AAM-4, scheduled for November 12, will adjust the spacecraft’s trajectory to arrive at a position 12 miles (20 km) from Bennu on December 3. After arrival, the spacecraft will initiate asteroid proximity operations by performing a series of fly-bys over Bennu’s poles and equator.

  19. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Begins Asteroid Operations Campaign

    August 24, 2018 -
    Asteroid Bennu moving againts a star field

    On Aug. 17, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft obtained the first images of its target asteroid Bennu from a distance of 1.4 million miles (2.2 million km), or almost six times the distance between the Earth and Moon. This cropped set of five images was obtained by the PolyCam camera over the course of an hour for calibration purposes and in order to assist the mission’s navigation team with optical navigation efforts. Bennu is visible as a moving object against the stars in the constellation Serpens.

    After an almost two-year journey, NASA’s asteroid sampling spacecraft, OSIRIS-REx, caught its first glimpse of asteroid Bennu last week and began the final approach toward its target. Kicking off the mission’s asteroid operations campaign on Aug. 17, the spacecraft’s PolyCam camera obtained the image from a distance of 1.4 million miles (2.2 million km).

    OSIRIS-REx is NASA’s first mission to visit a near-Earth asteroid, survey the surface, collect a sample and deliver it safely back to Earth. The spacecraft has traveled approximately 1.1 billion miles (1.8 billion km) since its Sept. 8, 2016, launch and is scheduled to arrive at Bennu on Dec. 3.

    “Now that OSIRIS-REx is close enough to observe Bennu, the mission team will spend the next few months learning as much as possible about Bennu’s size, shape, surface features, and surroundings before the spacecraft arrives at the asteroid,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “After spending so long planning for this moment, I can’t wait to see what Bennu reveals to us.”

    As OSIRIS-REx approaches the asteroid, the spacecraft will use its science instruments to gather information about Bennu and prepare for arrival.  The spacecraft’s science payload comprises the OCAMS camera suite (PolyCam, MapCam, and SamCam), the OTES thermal spectrometer, the OVIRS visible and infrared spectrometer, the OLA laser altimeter, and the REXIS x-ray spectrometer.

    During the mission’s approach phase, OSIRIS-REx will:

    • regularly observe the area around the asteroid to search for dust plumes and natural satellites, and study Bennu’s light and spectral properties;
    • execute a series of four asteroid approach maneuvers, beginning on Oct. 1, slowing the spacecraft to match Bennu’s orbit around the Sun;
    • jettison the protective cover of the spacecraft’s sampling arm in mid-October and subsequently extend and image the arm for the first time in flight; and
    • use OCAMS to reveal the asteroid’s overall shape in late-October and begin detecting Bennu’s surface features in mid-November.

    After arrival at Bennu, the spacecraft will spend the first month performing flybys of Bennu’s north pole, equator, and south pole, at distances ranging between 11.8 and 4.4 miles (19 and 7 km) from the asteroid. These maneuvers will allow for the first direct measurement of Bennu’s mass as well as close-up observations of the surface. These trajectories will also provide the mission’s navigation team with experience navigating near the asteroid.

    “Bennu’s low gravity provides a unique challenge for the mission,” said Rich Burns, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “At roughly 0.3 miles [500 meters] in diameter, Bennu will be the smallest object that any spacecraft has ever orbited.”

    The spacecraft will extensively survey the asteroid before the mission team identifies two possible sample sites. Close examination of these sites will allow the team to pick one for sample collection, scheduled for early July 2020. After sample collection, the spacecraft will head back toward Earth before ejecting the Sample Return Capsule for landing in the Utah desert in Sept. 2023.

    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center 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. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the agency’s New Frontiers Program for its Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

  20. Successful Second Deep Space Maneuver for OSIRIS-REx Confirmed

    July 3, 2018 -

    New tracking data confirms that NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft successfully completed its second Deep Space Maneuver (DSM-2) on June 28. The thruster burn put the spacecraft on course for a series of asteroid approach maneuvers to be executed this fall that will culminate with the spacecraft’s scheduled arrival at asteroid Bennu on Dec. 3.

    Artist’s conception of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft during a burn of its TCM thrusters. Credit: University of Arizona

    The DSM-2 burn, which employed the spacecraft’s Trajectory Correction Maneuver (TCM) thruster set, resulted in a 37 miles per hour (16.7 meters per second) change in the vehicle’s velocity and consumed 28.2 pounds (12.8 kilograms) of fuel.

    Tracking data from the Deep Space Network provided preliminary confirmation of the burn’s execution, and the subsequent downlink of telemetry from the spacecraft shows that all subsystems performed as expected.

    DSM-2 was OSIRIS-REx’s last deep space maneuver of its outbound cruise to Bennu. The next engine burn, Asteroid Approach Maneuver 1 (AAM-1), is scheduled for early October. AAM-1 is a major braking maneuver designed to slow the spacecraft’s speed from approximately 1,130 to 320 miles per hour (506.2 to 144.4 meters per second) relative to Bennu and is the first of four asteroid approach maneuvers scheduled for this fall.

    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 observation planning and processing. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the spacecraft and is providing spacecraft 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. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the agency’s New Frontiers Program for its Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

  21. OSIRIS-REx Executes Second Deep Space Maneuver

    June 28, 2018 -

    Artist’s conception of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft during a burn of its TCM thrusters. Credit: University of Arizona

    NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft executed its second Deep Space Maneuver today, which put the spacecraft on course for its scheduled arrival at the asteroid Bennu in December. The mission team will continue to examine telemetry and tracking data as they become available and will have more information on the results of the maneuver over the next week.

  22. Two Pieces of a Cosmic Puzzle: Hayabusa2 and OSIRIS-REx

    By Christine Hoekenga

    June 22, 2018 -

    It began with dust. Before there were asteroids, or planets, or people – about 4.6 billion years ago – a cloud of dust and gas swirled in the cosmos. At the center, a star began to form.

    With heat and shock waves, clumps of this ancient dust coalesced into droplets of molten rock called chondrules. These chondrules and dust became the building blocks of the Solar System. Eventually, chunks of material as large as asteroids, and even planets, formed from this cloud and organized according to the laws of physics around a newly born star: our Sun.

    Scientists believe one of these chunks became a protoplanet that eventually broke apart in a collision, giving rise to an asteroid that humans would one-day dub Bennu. Another (or perhaps the same) chunk produced another asteroid that would become known as Ryugu. Long before humans were around to give them names or contemplate their origins, both asteroids migrated from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter into near-Earth space and settled into new orbits.

    It wasn’t until hundreds of millions of years later, in the 1800s, that human astronomers trained their telescopes on the sky and began identifying and studying asteroids. Fast forward to 1999. That year, the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) survey discovered two near-Earth asteroids that would go on to become the targets for two robotic sample return missions: NASA’s OSIRIS-REx, launched in 2016 to study asteroid Bennu, and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Hayabusa2, launched in 2014 to study Ryugu.

    Even though humans have intently studied asteroids for centuries, we have had very few opportunities to get our hands on material directly from these cosmic time capsules. Meteorites, which are pieces of asteroids that have fallen to Earth, provide important clues about the early days of the Solar System, but they have two major limitations. First, scientists aren’t certain which parent bodies (asteroids) gave rise to most of them. Second, they are not clean, unaltered samples. After withstanding the heat of atmospheric entry, they land on the ground, where they become contaminated with materials from Earth and immediately begin to corrode.

    The only sample humanity has ever collected directly from an asteroid came back with JAXA’s Hayabusa Mission in 2010. That sample contains less than a milligram of particles from Itokowa, a “stony” asteroid with high silica content.

    Soon, though, we’ll have two new opportunities to study pristine asteroid material. This time the samples will come from the carbon-rich asteroids Bennu and Ryugu. These asteroids are of particular interest because they contain the very oldest material from the stellar nursery – and because carbon-bearing compounds are the basis of life as we know it. These samples, and the organic molecules they contain, will help shed light on some of humanity’s grand mysteries: Where did we come from? How did life develop on Earth?

    Both spacecraft will reach their respective destinations during 2018 – Hayabusa2 in June and OSIRIS-REx in December – and the missions fit together like two adjoining pieces of a cosmic puzzle. In combination, the data and discoveries from these two asteroid explorers will reveal a long-shrouded portion of the Solar System’s portrait.

    Mapping, navigating around, and collecting samples from small Solar System bodies are all relatively new endeavors for humanity, and the two mission teams have already been sharing ideas, data, and lessons learned for several years as part of a major partnership between NASA and JAXA. This exchange will continue as the two spacecraft operate in close proximity to their target asteroids. The OSIRIS-REx team will host Japanese scientists in the Science Operations Center at the University of Arizona, and OSIRIS-REx team members will travel to JAXA during Hayabusa2’s operations. They will share software, data, techniques for analysis, and aspects of each other’s cultural systems in the process. Ultimately, the two agencies will exchange portions of the returned samples as well.

    However, the two missions’ strategies for exploration are quite different. For starters, OSIRIS-REx will go into orbit around Bennu during two separate phases of asteroid operations. All told, the NASA spacecraft will spend more than a year and a half imaging and mapping Bennu with its suite of remote sensing instruments (cameras, spectrometers, and a laser altimeter) – a plan based partially on lessons learned from JAXA’s first Hayabusa mission. All of this data will be used to select a single sample site with high scientific interest and low risk to the spacecraft. After carefully rehearsing, OSIRIS-REx will move in close, extend its sampling arm, and touch the asteroid’s surface for just five seconds, using nitrogen gas to stir up and collect at least 60 grams of loose material.

    By contrast, Hayabusa2 will not actually orbit Ryugu. In fact, the JAXA spacecraft will spend only about three months mapping before it begins the process of collecting three separate, but smaller, samples from different geographic locations on Ryugu. In addition to remote sensing, Hayabusa2 will deploy a lander (called MASCOT) and two rovers (called MINERVA-II 1 and 2) and will use a projectile and small explosive during one sampling process to collect material from beneath the asteroid’s surface.

    Despite the differences, there are shared challenges, and both teams’ learning curves will be steep. Until now, neither asteroid has been seen up close, and they will likely have some surprises in store. The predictions made from the ground about their shapes, sizes, and compositions could turn out to be wrong. Ryugu is expected to be about 80 percent larger than Bennu (approximately 900 meters in diameter versus 500 meters in diameter), but both asteroids are much smaller than the planets and most other bodies that have been orbited or landed on by spacecraft. The small size and microgravity environment makes navigation and sampling that much more challenging.

    Both spacecraft are venturing into far-away and unknown territory and attempting feats that are new to humanity. For the most part, they will be on their own on the asteroid frontier, but the value of running complementary missions cannot be overstated. The scientific and cultural returns from the two missions combined is far more than double the value of each individual mission. The ability to make comparisons during planning, operations, and after the samples are returned reduces risk and make both missions exponentially better.

    And, like any expedition, the chances for success increase when there are two friendly explorers forging similar paths and learning side-by-side.

  23. Asteroid Bennu, as Seen from Earth

    By Christine Hoekenga

    May 1, 2018 -

    When Asteroid Bennu was discovered on Sept. 11, 1999 by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research project (LINEAR), it was called 1999 RQ36 — a provisional designation assigned by the Minor Planet Center. After follow-up observations determined the asteroid’s precise orbit, it was issued the official number 101955, indicating that it was the 101,955th asteroid to be officially recognized.

    Bennu’s orbit brings it relatively close to Earth every six years (in 2018, for example, the asteroid comes within 0.352 AU or about 33 million miles), giving astronomers better opportunities to image the asteroid with telescopes. Additional ground-based observations of Bennu have been made a number times since the asteroid’s discovery, including these images captured by telescopes based in Arizona:

    Image of Asteroid Bennu from Earth Sept. 2005

    Sept. 17, 2005 — Six years after its discovery, Bennu was was observed by researchers using the 1.5-meter Kuiper Telescope at the University of Arizona. Credit: Carl Hergenrother/University of Arizona

     

     

    Image of Asteroid Bennu from Earth Sept. 2011

    Sept. 26, 2011 — A few months after NASA selected the OSIRIS-REx mission for funding to visit and sample Bennu, researchers using the 1.5-meter Kuiper Telescope at the University of Arizona observed the asteroid. Credit: Carl Hergenrother/University of Arizona

     

     

    Image of Asteroid Bennu from Earth May 2012

    April 20, 2012 — Researchers using the 1.5-meter Kuiper Telescope at the University of Arizona observed Bennu again in the spring of 2012. Credit: Carl Hergenrother/University of Arizona

     

     

    Image of Asteroid Bennu from Earth May 2012

    May 15, 2012 — Bennu was observed using the 1.8-meter Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope (VATT) on Mount Graham in Arizona in May 2012. Credit: Carl Hergenrother/University of Arizona/Vatican Observatory

     

    Scientists have also used radar data from the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico and NASA’s Deep Space Network antenna in California to estimate Bennu’s shape and size. However, to this day, no one has ever seen or imaged the asteroid up close.

    That’s where OSIRIS-REx comes in.

    Starting in the summer of 2018, the spacecraft will begin imaging asteroid Bennu with its PolyCam imager. The first images will be similar to ground-based observations: the asteroid will appear as a point of light in the distance. As the spacecraft approaches Bennu, the images will become clearer and more detailed, eventually zooming in on the asteroid’s precise shape, size and surface features.

    The mission team will use these detailed images, along with data collected by the spacecraft’s other instruments, to create maps of Bennu and, ultimately to select the location where OSIRIS-REx will collect a sample of its surface material for return to Earth in 2023.

     

  24. A long, long way from home…

    February 14, 2018 -

     

    The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft captured this image of the Earth and Moon system using its NavCam1 imager on January 17 from a distance of 39.5 million miles (63.6 million km). Earth is the largest, brightest spot in the center of the image, with the smaller, dimmer Moon appearing to the right. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/Lockheed Martin

    As part of an engineering test, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft captured this image of the Earth and Moon using its NavCam1 imager on January 17 from a distance of 39.5 million miles (63.6 million km).  When the camera acquired the image, the spacecraft was moving away from home at a speed of 19,000 miles per hour (8.5 kilometers per second).

    Earth is the largest, brightest spot in the center of the image, with the smaller, dimmer Moon appearing to the right. Several constellations are also visible in the surrounding space. The bright cluster of stars in the upper left corner is the Pleiades in the Taurus constellation. Hamal, the brightest star in Aries, is located in the upper right corner of the image.  The Earth-Moon system is centered in the middle of five stars comprising the head of Cetus the Whale.

    NavCam1, a grayscale imager, is part of the TAGCAMS (Touch-And-Go Camera System) navigation camera suite.  Malin Space Science Systems designed, built, and tested TAGCAMS; Lockheed Martin integrated TAGCAMS to the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft and operates TAGCAMS.

     

  25. NASA Selects Participating Scientists to Join OSIRIS-REx Mission

    December 8, 2017 -

    NASA selected 13 Participating Scientists from a range of disciplines to join the OSIRIS-REx mission. Credit: University of Arizona

    NASA has selected 13 participating scientists for the agency’s first asteroid sample return mission, OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security – Regolith Explorer).

    The goal of the OSIRIS-REx Participating Scientist Program is to enhance the scientific return during the asteroid-operational phase of the mission by expanding participation in the mission through new investigations that broaden and/or complement existing investigations. The participating scientists will become science team members during their three-year tenure with the mission.

    OSIRIS-REx launched Sept. 8, 2016, from Cape Canaveral, Florida. It’s currently on a seven-year journey to rendezvous with, study, and return a sample of Bennu to Earth. This sample of a primitive asteroid will help scientists understand the formation of our solar system more than 4.5 billion years ago.

    The spacecraft will arrive at Bennu in December 2018, and begin surveying the surface.

    The newly selected participating scientists are:

    • Joshua Bandfield – Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colorado
    • Kerri Donaldson-Hanna – University of Oxford, England
    • Catherine Elder – Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California
    • Timothy Glotch – Stony Brook University (SUNY), New York
    • Romy Hanna – University of Texas, Austin
    • Christine Hartzell – University of Maryland, College Park
    • Jamie Molaro – Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Arizona
    • Greg Neumann – NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland
    • Maurizio Pajola – INAF/Astronomical Observatory of Padua, Italy
    • Stephen Schwartz – University of Arizona, Tucson
    • Matthew Siegler – Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Arizona
    • David Trang – University of Hawaii, Manoa
    • Pasquale Tricarico – Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Arizona

    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 Systems 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. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the agency’s New Frontiers Program for the Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

  26. OSIRIS-REx Images Earth and the Moon in Color

    October 10, 2017 -

     

    OSIRIS-REx MapCam Color Image Earth and Moon

    A color portrait of the Earth and the Moon taken Oct. 2, 2017 at a distance of approximately 3,180,000 miles (5,120,000 km) from Earth, using OSIRIS-REx’s MapCam imager. To produce the image, three of MapCam’s color filters (blue, green and red) were co-registered and stacked. Color correction and “stretching” (brightening) were performed on the Earth and Moon. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

     

    This color composite image of Earth and the Moon was taken Oct. 2, 2017 (ten days after OSIRIS-REx performed its Earth Gravity Assist maneuver), using MapCam, the mid-range scientific camera onboard the spacecraft. The distance to Earth was approximately 3,180,000 miles (5,120,000 km)—or about 13 times the distance between the Earth and Moon.

    MapCam, part of the OSIRIS-REx Camera Suite (OCAMS) operated by the University of Arizona, has four color filters. To produce this image, three of them (b, v and w) were treated as a blue-green-red triplet, co-registered and stacked. The Earth and Moon were each color-corrected, and the Moon was “stretched” (brightened) to make it more easily visible.

     

    Graphic - MapCam Imaging Earth and Moon After EGA

    Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    To capture the image, OSIRIS-REx pointed its instrument deck back toward Earth from a distance of approximately 3,180,000 miles (5,120,000 km). At that range, the Moon—which was 3,370,000 miles (5,420,000 km) away from the spacecraft—appeared just inside MapCam’s field of view, allowing both planetary bodies to be captured in the same frame.

  27. OSIRIS-REx Images the Moon

    October 3, 2017 -

    On Sept. 25, 2017, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft obtained the data used to produce this image of the Moon with its high-resolution PolyCam imager. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    Three days after its Earth flyby, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft examined the Moon using its high-resolution PolyCam imager. This image was produced using data taken Sept. 25, when the spacecraft was approximately 746,000 miles (1.2 million km) from the Moon, moving away at approximately 14,000 miles per hour (22,530 km per hour).

    Familiar lunar features such as the Mare Tranquillitatis (Sea of Tranquility) and Mare Crisium (Sea of Crises) are visible on the left. Also visible are features of the far side of the Moon, such as the mare plain surrounding Tsiolkovsky Crater (bottom right) and the bright ray systems surrounding the Giordano Bruno and Necho Craters (center). To produce this image, the OSIRIS-REx team registered and combined nine one-megapixel PolyCam images taken in quick succession using a technique called super-resolution imaging.

    PolyCam is part of the OSIRIS-REx Camera Suite (OCAMS) operated by the University of Arizona.

  28. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Snaps Pictures of Earth and the Moon

    September 28, 2017 -

    The first image taken by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft after completion of its Earth Gravity Assist maneuver on Sept. 22, 2017. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/Lockheed Martin

    The first image taken by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft after completion of its Earth Gravity Assist maneuver on Sept. 22, 2017, cropped to show in greater detail the spacecraft’s view of Earth from 69,000 miles (110,000 kilometers). The image has been rotated so that Earth’s north pole is located at the top, and the Baja Peninsula is visible above and to the right of center. Cloud cover and the Pacific Ocean dominate most of the image, but Hurricane Maria and the remnants of Hurricane Jose can be seen in the far upper-right portion of the image, off the east coast of the United States. This image was captured by NavCam 1, a black-and-white imager that is one of three cameras comprising TAGCAMS (the Touch-and-Go Camera System), which is part of OSIRIS-REx’s guidance, navigation, and control system. NavCam images will track starfields and landmarks on Bennu to determine the spacecraft position during mission operations. TAGCAMS was designed, built and tested by Malin Space Science Systems; Lockheed Martin integrated TAGCAMS to the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft and operates TAGCAMS. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/Lockheed Martin

     

    This black-and-white image of the Earth-Moon system was captured on Sept. 25, 2017 by NavCam 1. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/Lockheed Martin

    This black-and-white image of the Earth-Moon system was captured on Sept. 25, 2017 by NavCam 1, one of three cameras that comprise TAGCAMS (the Touch-and-Go Camera System) on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. At the time this image was taken, the spacecraft was retreating from Earth after performing an Earth Gravity Assist maneuver on Sept. 22. Earth and the Moon are shown 249,000 miles (401,200 kilometers) apart, and the spacecraft is 804,000 miles (1,297,000 kilometers) from Earth and 735,000 miles (1,185,000 kilometers) from the Moon.  TAGCAMS was designed, built and tested by Malin Space Science Systems; Lockheed Martin integrated TAGCAMS to the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft and operates TAGCAMS. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/Lockheed Martin

  29. OSIRIS-REx Views the Earth During Flyby

    September 26, 2017 -

    A color composite image of Earth taken on Sept. 22 by the MapCam camera on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    A color composite image of Earth taken on Sept. 22 by the MapCam camera on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. This image was taken just hours after the spacecraft completed its Earth Gravity Assist at a range of approximately 106,000 miles (170,000 kilometers). MapCam is part of the OSIRIS-REx Camera Suite (OCAMS) operated by the University of Arizona. Visible in this image are the Pacific Ocean and several familiar landmasses, including Australia in the lower left, and Baja California and the southwestern United States in the upper right. The dark vertical streaks at the top of the image are caused by short exposure times (less than three milliseconds). Short exposure times are required for imaging an object as bright as Earth, but are not anticipated for an object as dark as the asteroid Bennu, which the camera was designed to image.

     

    OVIRS captured this visible and infrared spectral curve, which shows the amount of sunlight reflected from the Earth, after the spacecraft’s Earth Gravity Assist on Sept. 22, 2017. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    OVIRS, the OSIRIS-REx Visible and Infrared Spectrometer, captured this visible and infrared spectral curve, which shows the amount of sunlight reflected from the Earth, hours after the spacecraft’s closest approach during Earth Gravity Assist on Sept. 22 2017. The features in the curve are caused by solar absorption due to different substances (water vapor, carbon dioxide, and oxygen). The smooth red curve is the spectrum of the sun and shows what would be reflected if there these substances were not present in the atmosphere. OVIRS was built and is operated by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.  The inset shows an image of Earth captured by OCAMS on the same date showing the approximate location of the “spot” (400 kilometers in diameter) on the Earth that was scanned by the OVIRS instrument to produce this spectral curve.

     

     

     

     

     

    OTES captured these infrared spectral curves during Earth Gravity Assist on Sept. 22 2017, hours after the spacecraft’s closest approach. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/Arizona State University

    OTES, the OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer, captured these infrared spectral curves during Earth Gravity Assist on Sept. 22 2017, hours after the spacecraft’s closest approach. The peaks and valleys in the curves are known as absorption features and show differences in absorption of the sun’s energy due to different substances (water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane and ozone) in Earth’s atmosphere. The curves also provide temperature information for different heights in the atmosphere. The smooth red and blue curves show the temperatures of the ocean surface and the stratosphere without the effects of the absorption features. OTES was built and is operated by Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz.  The inset shows an image of Earth captured by OCAMS on the same date shows the approximate locations and sizes of the “spots” (each 800 kilometers in diameter) on the Earth that were scanned by the OTES instrument to produce these spectral curves.

  30. NASA’S OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft Slingshots Past Earth

    September 22, 2017 -

    NASA’s asteroid sample return spacecraft successfully used Earth’s gravity on Friday to slingshot itself on a path toward the asteroid Bennu, for a rendezvous next August.

    At 12:52 p.m. EDT on Sept. 22, the OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security – Regolith Explorer) spacecraft came within 10,711 miles (17,237 km) of Antarctica, just south of Cape Horn, Chile, before following a route north over the Pacific Ocean.

    OSIRIS-REx launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Sept. 8, 2016, on an Atlas V 411 rocket. Although the rocket provided the spacecraft with all the momentum required to propel it forward to Bennu, OSIRIS-REx needed an extra boost from the Earth’s gravity to change its orbital plane. Bennu’s orbit around the Sun is tilted six degrees from Earth’s orbit, and this maneuver changed the spacecraft’s direction to put it on the path toward Bennu.

    As a result of the flyby, the velocity change to the spacecraft was 8,451 miles per hour (3.778 kilometers per second).

    “The encounter with Earth is fundamental to our rendezvous with Bennu,” said Rich Burns, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “The total velocity change from Earth’s gravity far exceeds the total fuel load of the OSIRIS-REx propulsion system, so we are really leveraging our Earth flyby to make a massive change to the OSIRIS-REx trajectory, specifically changing the tilt of the orbit to match Bennu.”

    The mission team also is using OSIRIS-REx’s Earth flyby as an opportunity to test and calibrate the spacecraft’s instrument suite. Approximately four hours after the point of closest approach, and on three subsequent days over the next two weeks, the spacecraft’s instruments will be turned on to scan Earth and the Moon. These data will be used to calibrate the spacecraft’s science instruments in preparation for OSIRIS-REx’s arrival at Bennu in late 2018.

    “The opportunity to collect science data over the next two weeks provides the OSIRIS-REx mission team with an excellent opportunity to practice for operations at Bennu,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “During the Earth flyby, the science and operations teams are co-located, performing daily activities together as they will during the asteroid encounter.”

    The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is currently on a seven-year journey to rendezvous with, study, and return a sample of Bennu to Earth. This sample of a primitive asteroid will help scientists understand the formation of our solar system more than 4.5 billion years ago.

    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center 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 Systems 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. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the agency’s New Frontiers Program for the Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

  31. Large Binocular Telescope Snags First Glimpse of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft Since Launch

    September 8, 2017 -

    This set of magnified, cropped images shows NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft (highlighted in red) as it approaches Earth for its Sept. 22 Earth Gravity Assist. To improve visibility, the images have been inverted so that black and white are reversed. The images were taken Sept. 2, by the Large Binocular Telescope Observatory located on Mount Graham in Arizona. This is the first Earth-based view of the spacecraft since its launch on Sept. 8, 2016.

    On Sept. 2, 2017, the Large Binocular Telescope on Mt. Graham, Ariz., imaged the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft as the spacecraft approached Earth. This is the first Earth-based view of the spacecraft since its launch on Sept. 8, 2016. Credit: Large Binocular Telescope Observatory

    OSIRIS-REx, which was approximately 7 million miles (12 million kilometers) away when the images were taken, appears at approximately 25th magnitude.

    The Large Binocular Telescope is a pair of 8.4-meter mirrors mounted side by side on the same mount, that can work together to provide resolution equivalent to a 22.7-meter telescope. The telescope typically conducts imaging of more distant objects but took this opportunity to look for OSIRIS-REx with a pair of wide-field cameras (one per mirror) as the spacecraft approaches Earth for its gravity assist. This encounter will change the spacecraft’s trajectory and set it on course to rendezvous with asteroid Bennu, where it will collect a sample of surface material and return it to Earth for study in 2023. The Large Binocular Telescope Observatory is headquartered on the Tucson campus of the University of Arizona.

    The OSIRIS-REx mission team is collecting other images of the spacecraft taken by observatories and other ground-based telescopes around the world during this period – approximately Sept. 10-23, depending on location and local conditions. Individuals and groups may submit images of the spacecraft via the mission’s website, where instructions to locate the spacecraft in the sky are also available.

    For more information on the OSIRIS-REx mission, visit:

    www.nasa.gov/osirisrex  and www.asteroidmission.org

    For more information on the Large Binocular Telescope, visit:

    www.lbto.org

  32. Spot the Spacecraft

    September 6, 2017 -

    On Sept. 22, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will make a close approach to Earth, using the planet’s gravity to slingshot itself toward the asteroid Bennu. Over the course of several days, observatories and amateur astronomers with specialized equipment will be able to see OSIRIS-REx as the spacecraft approaches and retreats from its closest position over Earth, approximately 11,000 miles (17,000 km) above the planet’s surface.

    The mission will collect images of OSIRIS-REx taken by observatories and other ground-based telescopes around the world during this period – approximately Sept. 10-23, depending on location and local conditions. Observers from the OSIRIS-REx Target Asteroids! citizen science program, who regularly volunteer their time to help scientists study near-Earth asteroids, will be among those who train their telescopes on the spacecraft’s path.

    “The opportunity to capture images of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft as it approaches Earth provides a unique challenge for observers to hone their skills during this historic flyby,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “As the spacecraft approaches Earth for its own imaging campaign, ground-based observers will also be looking up and taking photos from the opposite perspective.”

    Individuals and groups may submit images of the spacecraft via the mission’s website, where instructions to locate the spacecraft in the sky are also available.

    “The team is eager and ready to execute the Earth Gravity Assist,” said Rich Burns, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greeenbelt, Maryland. “Not only will it be a significant change in trajectory putting OSIRIS-REx on track for rendezvous with Bennu, it also represents a unique opportunity for the OSIRIS-REx instruments to observe our home planet. It is fantastic that ground based observers are also taking the opportunity to image OSIRIS-REx.”

    The images collected during the Earth gravity assist represent the last opportunity for Earth-based observers to see the spacecraft — until it returns to Earth in 2023 carrying a sample from asteroid Bennu.

    The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the home institution of several OSIRIS-REx science team members, will also work with the Japan Public Observatory Society and the Planetary Society of Japan to collect imagery from vantage points in Japan.

    Shortly before OSIRIS-REx reaches its closest distance from Earth, the spacecraft will fly over the eastern half of Australia, giving observers there some of the best opportunities to see and photograph the spacecraft. The Desert Fireball Network — an organization based at Curtin University, Perth, that studies meteorites, fireballs and their pre-Earth orbits—will deploy observers to locations around Australia to track OSIRIS-REx across the sky.

    Members of the public without telescopes can still celebrate the Earth Gravity Assist by joining the “Wave to OSIRIS-REx” social media campaign. Individuals and groups from anywhere in the world are encouraged to take photos of themselves waving to OSIRIS-REx, share them using the hashtag #HelloOSIRISREx and tag the mission account in their posts on Twitter (@OSIRISREx) or Instagram (@OSIRIS_REx).

    Participants may begin taking and sharing photos at any time — or wait until the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft makes its closest approach to Earth at 12:52 p.m. EDT on Friday, Sept. 22.

    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center 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 observation planning and processing. Lockheed Martin Space Systems 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. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the agency’s New Frontiers Program for its Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

  33. NASA’s Asteroid-Bound Spacecraft to Slingshot Past Earth

    August 31, 2017 -

    NASA’s asteroid sample return mission, OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security – Regolith Explorer), will pass about 11,000 miles (17,000 kilometers) above Earth just before 12:52 p.m. EDT on Friday, Sept. 22. Using Earth as a slingshot, the spacecraft will receive an assist to complete its journey to the asteroid Bennu.

    This artist’s concept shows the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft passing by Earth.
    Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/University of Arizona

    OSIRIS-REx is undertaking a challenging mission to visit the near-Earth asteroid, survey the surface, collect samples and deliver them safely back to Earth. This is the first NASA mission to attempt such an undertaking. The spacecraft is halfway through its two-year outbound journey, and now OSIRIS-REx needs an extra boost to successfully rendezvous with Bennu.

    Bennu’s orbit around the Sun is tilted six degrees in comparison to Earth’s. The gravity assist will change OSIRIS-REx’s trajectory to put the spacecraft on a course to match the asteroid’s path and speed.

    “The Earth Gravity Assist is a clever way to move the spacecraft onto Bennu’s orbital plane using Earth’s own gravity instead of expending fuel,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

    The team has already made multiple adjustments to the spacecraft’s path since launch on Sept. 8, 2016. The largest was a deep space maneuver on Dec. 28, 2016, that changed the speed and path of the spacecraft to target Earth for the flyby. There have also been three trajectory correction maneuvers – one on Oct. 7, 2016, one on Jan. 18, 2017, and another on Aug. 23, 2017 (30 days before the gravity assist) – that further refined the spacecraft’s trajectory in preparation for the flyby.

    The navigation team comprises employees from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and KinetX Aerospace. KinetX Aerospace navigation team members plan and carry out all OSIRIS-REx maneuvers with the Lockheed Martin spacecraft operations team at the Lockheed Martin Waterton Campus in Littleton, Colorado. To properly target the Earth Gravity Assist, the navigation team calculates any required amount of change in the spacecraft’s course and speed. This information is then translated by the operations team into commands that are uploaded to the spacecraft and executed by firing the spacecraft’s rocket engines.

    After traveling almost 600 million miles, OSIRIS-REx will approach Earth at a speed of about 19,000 mph. The spacecraft will fly over Australia before reaching its closest point to Earth over Antarctica, just south of Cape Horn, Chile.

    “For about an hour, NASA will be out of contact with the spacecraft as it passes over Antarctica,” said Mike Moreau, the flight dynamics system lead at Goddard. “OSIRIS-REx uses the Deep Space Network to communicate with Earth, and the spacecraft will be too low relative to the southern horizon to be in view with either the Deep Space tracking station at Canberra, Australia, or Goldstone, California.”

    NASA will regain communication with OSIRIS-REx at 1:40 p.m. EDT, roughly 50 minutes after closest approach.

    At 4:52 p.m. EDT, four hours after closest approach, OSIRIS-REx will begin science observations of Earth and the Moon to calibrate its instruments.

    During the gravity assist, OSIRIS-REx will pass through a region of space that is inhabited by Earth-orbiting satellites, and NASA has taken precautions to ensure the safety of the spacecraft as it flies through this area. The mission’s flight dynamics team designed a small maneuver that, if necessary, could be executed a day before closest approach to change the spacecraft’s trajectory slightly to avoid a potential collision between OSIRIS-REx and a satellite.

    “A few weeks after the flyby we will assess the outgoing trajectory on its way to Bennu,” said Dan Wibben, the maneuver design and trajectory analysis lead from KinetX Aerospace. “There is a maneuver planned in case we need to adjust the orbit just a little bit to push the spacecraft back on track.”

    In late June of 2018, the team will perform another deep space maneuver to further target the rendezvous with Bennu. Then beginning in October 2018, a series of asteroid approach maneuvers will be executed to slow the spacecraft with respect to the asteroid.

    Once OSIRIS-REx rendezvous with Bennu in late 2018, the spacecraft will begin surveying the surface.

    “The asteroid’s small size and low gravity makes OSIRIS-REx the most challenging mission that I have worked on,” said Peter Antreasian, the navigation team chief from KinetX Aerospace. “At roughly 500 meters in diameter, Bennu will be the smallest object that NASA has orbited.”

    While the engineering team is busy carrying out the Earth Gravity Assist, the mission invites members of the public to mark the occasion by participating in the Wave to OSIRIS-REx social media campaign. Individuals and groups from anywhere in the world are encouraged to take photos of themselves waving to OSIRIS-REx, share them using the hashtag #HelloOSIRISREx and tag the mission account in their posts on Twitter (@OSIRISREx) or Instagram (@OSIRIS_REx).

    Participants may begin taking and sharing photos at any time—or wait until the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft makes its closest approach to Earth at 12:52p.m. EDT on Friday, Sept. 22.

    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center 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 Systems 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. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the agency’s New Frontiers Program for its Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

  34. NASA’s Asteroid Sample Return Mission Successfully Adjusts Course

    August 25, 2017 -

    NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft fired its thrusters to position itself on the correct course for its upcoming Earth flyby. The spacecraft, which is on a two-year outbound journey to asteroid Bennu, successfully performed a precision course adjustment on Wednesday to prepare for the gravity slingshot on Sept. 22.

    This trajectory correction maneuver was the first to use the spacecraft’s Attitude Control System, or ACS, thrusters in a turn-burn-turn sequence. In this type of sequence, OSIRIS-REx’s momentum wheels turn the spacecraft to point the ACS thrusters toward the desired direction for the burn, and the thrusters fire. After the burn, the momentum wheels turn the spacecraft back to its previous orientation. The total thrust is monitored by an on-board accelerometer that will stop the maneuver once the desired thrust is achieved.

    High-precision changes in velocity, or speed and direction, will be critical when the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft operates near Bennu. Because Bennu is so small, it has only a weak gravity field. Therefore, it will only require tiny changes in velocity to do many of the maneuvers that are planned to explore and map the asteroid.

    The Aug. 23 maneuver began at 1 p.m. EDT and lasted for approximately one minute and 17 seconds. Preliminary tracking data indicate that the maneuver was successful, changing the velocity of the spacecraft by 1.07 miles per hour (47.9 centimeters per second) and using approximately 16 ounces (0.46 kilogram) of fuel.

    OSIRIS-REx will fly by Earth on Sept. 22 to use our planet’s gravity to propel the spacecraft onto Bennu’s orbital plane. As of Friday, Aug. 25, the spacecraft is about 10.3 million miles (16.6 million kilometers) from Earth.

    The mission team has another minor Earth-targeting maneuver tentatively planned for Sept. 12. Over the next few weeks, the navigation team will process daily spacecraft tracking data from Wednesday’s maneuver to determine whether the additional maneuver is necessary before the Earth gravity assist.

  35. OSIRIS-REx Experts Featured in Asteroid Day Celebration

    June 13, 2017 -

    Join the OSIRIS-REx mission and the University of Arizona for a special Asteroid Day presentation on Tuesday, June 27, featuring six experts exploring the most up-to-date asteroid science. Moderated by television host Geoff Notkin from the show “Meteorite Men,” the event will bring together researchers from the University of Arizona who work at the forefront of asteroid science. Media are invited to attend, and opportunities for interviews with the experts will be provided. The presentation is free and open to the public. Seating is limited and admittance is first-come, first-served.

    What: Special presentation and programming in recognition of Asteroid Day

    When: June 27, 6 p.m. and weekend of June 30 – July 2, 2017

    Where: Flandrau Science Center & Planetarium, 1601 E University Blvd., Tucson, AZ 85719 and online

    Expert Presenters:

    • Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission and professor at the UA Lunar and Planetary Laboratory
    • Eric Christensen, director of the Catalina Sky Survey for Near-Earth Objects and associate staff scientist at the UA Lunar and Planetary Laboratory
    • Heather Enos, deputy principal investigator for NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission
    • Vishnu Reddy, assistant professor at the UA Lunar and Planetary Laboratory
    • Geoff Notkin, Board of Governors, National Space Society
    • Dani DellaGiustina, lead image processing scientist for NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission

    Can’t join us in person? The presentations will be recorded for broadcast on June 29 and 30 as part of a special 24-hour Asteroid Day Live broadcast organized by the nation of Luxembourg.

    On Asteroid Day and through the weekend that follows (June 30 – July 2), Flandrau Science Center & Planetarium will celebrate Asteroid Day/Weekend with special activities related to asteroids and the OSIRIS-REx mission, asteroid planetarium shows and asteroid exhibits for the public.

     

    To raise awareness of asteroids and the important roles they have played in the evolution of the solar system and throughout Earth’s history, June 30 is designated annually as Asteroid Day. The date commemorates Earth’s largest asteroid impact in recorded history, the Siberia Tunguska event, which leveled trees across 770 square miles, more than three times the area of Tucson, in 1908.

    Currently, the UA leads the OSIRIS-REx mission, an $800 million NASA mission that will bring back a sample from the asteroid Bennu. The UA also has the most internationally active program to identify and track Near-Earth Objects (NEOs). More than half of all known near-Earth asteroids and comets have been discovered by the UA.

  36. OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Search Tests Instruments, Science Team

    March 24, 2017 -

    During an almost two-week search, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission team activated the spacecraft’s MapCam imager and scanned part of the surrounding space for elusive Earth-Trojan asteroids—objects that scientists believe may exist in one of the stable regions that co-orbits the sun with the Earth. Although no Earth-Trojans were discovered, the spacecraft’s camera operated flawlessly and demonstrated that it could image objects two magnitudes dimmer than originally expected.

    The path of the Main Belt asteroid 12 Victoria, as imaged by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on Feb. 11 during the mission’s Earth-Trojan Asteroid Search. This gif is made of a series of five images taken by the spacecraft’s MapCam camera that were then cropped and centered on Victoria. The images were taken about 51 minutes apart and each were exposed for ten seconds. Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    The spacecraft, currently on its outbound journey to the asteroid Bennu, flew through the center of Earth’s fourth Lagrangian area—a stable region 60 degrees in front of the Earth in its orbit where scientists believe asteroids may be trapped, such as asteroid 2010 TK7 discovered by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) satellite in 2010. Though no new asteroids were discovered in the region that was scanned, the spacecraft’s cameras MapCam and PolyCam successfully acquired and imaged Jupiter and several of its moons, as well as Main Belt asteroids.

    “The Earth-Trojan Asteroid Search was a significant success for the OSIRIS-REx mission,” said OSIRIS-REx principal investigator Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson. “In this first practical exercise of the mission’s science operations, the mission team learned so much about this spacecraft’s capabilities and flight operations that we are now ahead of the game for when we get to Bennu.”

    The Earth Trojan survey was designed primarily as an exercise for the mission team to rehearse the hazard search the spacecraft will perform as it approaches its target asteroid Bennu. This search will allow the mission team to avoid any natural satellites that may exist around the asteroid as the spacecraft prepares to collect a sample to return to Earth in 2023 for scientific study.

    The spacecraft’s MapCam imager, in particular, performed much better than expected during the exercise. Based on the camera’s design specifications, the team anticipated detecting four Main Belt asteroids. In practice, however, the camera was able to detect moving asteroids two magnitudes fainter than expected and imaged a total of 17 Main Belt asteroids. This indicates that the mission will be able to detect possible hazards around Bennu earlier and from a much greater distance that originally planned, further reducing mission risk.

    Scientists are still analyzing the implications of the search’s results for the potential population of Earth-Trojan asteroids and will publish conclusions after a thorough study of mission data.

    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center 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 observation planning and processing. Lockheed Martin Space Systems 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. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the agency’s New Frontiers Program for its Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

  37. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Takes Closer Image Of Jupiter

    February 15, 2017 -

    During Earth-Trojan asteroid search operations, the PolyCam imager aboard NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft captured this image of Jupiter (center) and three of its moons, Callisto (left), Io, and Ganymede.

    On Feb. 12, 2017, OSIRIS-REx’s PolyCam imager captured this image of Jupiter (center) and three of its moons, Callisto (left), Io, and Ganymede. The image was taken when the spacecraft was 76 million miles (122 million kilometers) from Earth and 418 million miles (673 million kilometers) from Jupiter. (NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)

    The image, which shows the bands of Jupiter, was taken at 3:34 a.m. EST, on Feb. 12, when the spacecraft was 76 million miles (122 million kilometers) from Earth and 418 million miles (673 million kilometers) from Jupiter. PolyCam is OSIRIS-REx’s longest range camera, capable of capturing images of the asteroid Bennu from a distance of two million kilometers.

    This image was produced by taking two copies of the same image, adjusting the brightness of Jupiter separately from the significantly dimmer moons, and compositing them back together so that all four objects are visible in the same frame.

    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 observation planning and processing. Lockheed Martin Space Systems 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. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the agency’s New Frontiers Program for its Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

  38. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Takes Its First Image of Jupiter

    February 14, 2017 -

    This magnified, cropped image showing Jupiter and three of its moons was taken by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft’s MapCam instrument during optical navigation testing for the mission’s Earth-Trojan Asteroid Search.

    A magnified, cropped image showing Jupiter and three of its moons taken by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft’s MapCam instrument during optical navigation testing for the mission’s Earth-Trojan Asteroid Search. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    The image shows Jupiter in the center, the moon Callisto to the left and the moons Io and Europa to the right. Ganymede, the fourth Galilean satellite, is also present in the image, but is not visible as it is crossing in front of the planet.

    The image was taken at 3:38 a.m. EST on Feb. 9, 2017, when the spacecraft was 75 million miles (120 million kilometers) from Earth and 419 million miles (675 million kilometers) from Jupiter. With an exposure time of two seconds, the image renders Jupiter overexposed, but allows for enhanced detection of stars in the background.

    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center 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 observation planning and processing. Lockheed Martin Space Systems 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. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the agency’s New Frontiers Program for its Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

  39. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Begins Earth-Trojan Asteroid Search

    February 9, 2017 -

    A NASA spacecraft begins its search Thursday for an enigmatic class of near-Earth objects known as Earth-Trojan asteroids. OSIRIS-REx, currently on a two-year outbound journey to the asteroid Bennu, will spend almost two weeks searching for evidence of these small bodies.

    An artist’s rendering of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft’s survey pattern during its Earth-Trojan Asteroid Search (not to scale). The search occurs Feb. 9-20, 2017, as the spacecraft transits the Earth’s L4 Lagrangian region. Credit: University of Arizona

    Trojan asteroids are trapped in stable gravity wells, called Lagrange points, which precede or follow a planet. OSIRIS-REx is currently traveling through Earth’s fourth Lagrange point, which is located 60 degrees ahead in Earth’s orbit around the sun, about 90 million miles (150 million kilometers) from our planet. The mission team will use this opportunity to take multiple images of the area with the spacecraft’s MapCam camera in the hope of identifying Earth-Trojan asteroids in the region.

    Although scientists have discovered thousands of Trojan asteroids accompanying other planets, only one Earth-Trojan has been identified to date, asteroid 2010 TK7. Scientists predict that there should be more Trojans sharing Earth’s orbit, but they are difficult to detect from Earth as they appear near the sun on the Earth’s horizon.

    “Because the Earth’s fourth Lagrange point is relatively stable, it is possible that remnants of the material that built Earth are trapped within it,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “So this search gives us a unique opportunity to explore the primordial building blocks of Earth.”

    The search commences today and continues through Feb. 20. On each observation day, the spacecraft’s MapCam camera will take 135 survey images that will be processed and examined by the mission’s imaging scientists at the University of Arizona, Tucson. The study plan also includes opportunities for MapCam to image Jupiter, several galaxies, and the main belt asteroids 55 Pandora, 47 Aglaja and 12 Victoria.

    Whether or not the team discovers any new asteroids, the search is a beneficial exercise. The operations involved in searching for Earth-Trojan asteroids closely resemble those required to search for natural satellites and other potential hazards around Bennu when the spacecraft approaches its target in 2018. Being able to practice these mission-critical operations in advance will help the OSIRIS-REx team reduce mission risk once the spacecraft arrives at Bennu.

    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center 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 observation planning and processing. Lockheed Martin Space Systems 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. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the agency’s New Frontiers Program for its Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

  40. PI BLOG: Searching for the Earth-Trojan Asteroids

    January 19, 2017 -

    The OSIRIS-REx mission will take advantage of our fortuitous trajectory to search for an elusive class of asteroids that may be the remnants of the building blocks of the Earth. Since our launch on September 8, 2016, spacecraft operations for OSIRIS-REx have gone well.

  41. Successful Deep Space Maneuver for NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft

    January 17, 2017 -

    New tracking data confirms that NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft aced its first Deep Space Maneuver (DSM-1) on Dec. 28, 2016. The engine burn sets up the spacecraft for an Earth gravity assist this fall as it continues its two-year journey to the asteroid Bennu.

    Artist’s conception of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft during a burn of its main engine. Credit: University of Arizona

    The large maneuver was the first using OSIRIS-REx’s main engines and resulted in a 964 miles per hour (431 meters per second) change in the vehicle’s velocity utilizing 780 pounds (354 kilograms) of fuel.

    Tracking data from the Deep Space Network (DSN) confirmed the successful maneuver, and subsequent downlink of high-rate telemetry from the spacecraft shows that all subsystems performed as expected.

    “DSM-1 was our first major trajectory change and first use of the main engines, so it’s good to have that under our belts and be on a safe trajectory to Bennu,” said Arlin Bartels, deputy project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

    DSM-1 represents the first major, post-launch milestone for OSIRIS-REx. The significant change in trajectory from DSM-1 was necessary to put OSIRIS-REx on course for an encounter with Earth in September of this year.

    A smaller trajectory correction maneuver will be executed on Wednesday, Jan. 18 to refine the course for the Earth flyby, during which Earth’s gravity will bend the OSIRIS-REx trajectory and slinging it toward a rendezvous with the asteroid Bennu in the fall of 2018.

    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center 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 observation planning and processing. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver built the spacecraft and is providing spacecraft 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. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the agency’s New Frontiers Program for its Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

  42. OSIRIS-REx Executes First Deep Space Maneuver

    December 28, 2016 -

    NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft executed its first Deep Space Maneuver today, putting it on course for an Earth flyby in September 2017. The team will continue to examine telemetry and tracking data as it becomes available at the current low data rate and will have more information in January.

    Artist’s conception of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft during a burn of its main engine. Credit: University of Arizona

  43. NASA Mission to Search for Rare Asteroids

    December 12, 2016 -

    NASA’s first mission to return a sample of an asteroid to Earth will be multitasking during its two-year outbound cruise to the asteroid Bennu. On Feb. 9-20, the OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security – Regolith Explorer) spacecraft will activate its onboard camera suite and commence a search for elusive “Trojan” asteroids.

    In February 2017, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will undertake a search for Earth-Trojan asteroids while on its outbound journey to the asteroid Bennu. Earth Trojans are asteroids that share an orbit with Earth while remaining near a stable point 60 degrees in front of or behind the planet. Credit: University of Arizona/Heather Roper

    In February 2017, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will undertake a search for Earth-Trojan asteroids while on its outbound journey to the asteroid Bennu. Earth Trojans are asteroids that share an orbit with Earth while remaining near a stable point 60 degrees in front of or behind the planet. Credit: University of Arizona/Heather Roper

    Trojans are asteroids that are constant companions to planets in our solar system as they orbit the sun, remaining near a stable point 60 degrees in front of or behind the planet. Because they constantly lead or follow in the same orbit, they will never collide with their companion planet.

    There are six planets in our solar system with known Trojan asteroids—Jupiter, Neptune, Mars, Venus, Uranus and, yes, even Earth. The Earth Trojan is elusive; to date, scientists have only discovered one Earth trojan asteroid — 2010 TK7  — found by NASA’s NEOWISE project in 2010. Yet there are more than 6,000 known Trojans that are co-orbiting the sun with the gas giant Jupiter.

    Scientists predict that there should be more Trojans sharing Earth’s orbit, but these asteroids are difficult to detect from Earth because they appear close to the sun from Earth’s point of view. In mid-February 2017, however, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will be positioned in an ideal spot to undertake a survey.

    Over 12 days, the OSIRIS-REx Earth-Trojan asteroid search will employ the spacecraft’s MapCam imager to methodically scan the space where Earth Trojans are expected to exist.  Many of these observations will closely resemble MapCam’s planned activities during its upcoming search for satellites of asteroid Bennu, so the Trojan asteroid search serves as an early rehearsal for the mission’s primary science operations.

    “The Earth-Trojan asteroid search provides a substantial advantage to the OSIRIS-REx mission,” said OSIRIS-REx Principal Investigator Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson. “Not only do we have the opportunity to discover new members of an asteroid class, but more importantly, we are practicing critical mission operations in advance of our arrival at Bennu, which ultimately reduces mission risk.”

    The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is currently on a seven-year journey to rendezvous with, study, and bring a sample of Bennu to Earth. This sample of a primitive asteroid will help scientists understand the formation of our solar system more than 4.5 billion years ago.

    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center 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 Systems 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. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the agency’s New Frontiers Program for its Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

  44. PI BLOG: OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft Check Out and Early Cruise Phase Activities

    November 14, 2016 -

    It has been awhile since I posted anything to this site. The launch of OSIRIS-REx was such an amazing, emotional experience; it took me about a month to come back down to Earth (pun intended). I have now settled into a normal work routine in Tucson and the team has been busy operating the spacecraft and planning for the encounter with Bennu in 2018. We are now in the Outbound Cruise phase of the mission.

  45. NASA Tests Thrusters on Journey to Asteroid Bennu

    October 7, 2016 -
    Artist's conception of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft in cruise configuration. Credit: University of Arizona/Heather Roper

    Artist’s conception of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft in cruise configuration. Credit: University of Arizona/Heather Roper

    NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft fired its Trajectory Correction Maneuver (TCM) thrusters for the first time Friday in order to slightly adjust its trajectory on the outbound journey from Earth to the asteroid Bennu. The spacecraft’s planned first Trajectory Correction Maneuver (TCM-1) began at 1 p.m. EDT and lasted for approximately 12 seconds. The maneuver changed the velocity of the spacecraft by 1.1 mile per hour (50 centimeters per second) and used approximately 18 ounces (.5 kilogram) of fuel.  The spacecraft is currently about 9 million miles (14.5 million kilometers) from Earth.

    TCM-1 was originally included in the spacecraft’s flight plan to fine-tune its trajectory if needed after the mission’s Sept. 8 launch. The ULA Atlas V’s launch performance was so accurate, however, that the spacecraft’s orbit had no practical need for correction. Instead, the OSIRIS-REx mission team used the Oct. 7 maneuver to test the TCM thrusters and as practice to prepare for a much larger propulsive maneuver scheduled in December.

    The mission had allocated approximately 388 ounces (11 kilograms) of propellant for TCM-1 to create a velocity change of up to 26 miles per hour (11.6 meters per second), had it been necessary. The unused propellant from this event provides more fuel margin for the spacecraft’s asteroid proximity operations once OSIRIS-REx arrives at Bennu.

    To track today’s maneuver, the OSIRIS-REx mission’s navigation team monitored the Doppler shift in radio signals between the spacecraft and the Deep Space Network antenna at the Goldstone Observatory in California. After 44 seconds—the current one-way light time delay between the spacecraft and Earth—the team received the first maneuver data from the spacecraft. Over the next week, the navigation team will process daily spacecraft tracking data to determine the precise effect of the burn.

    The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has four different kinds of thrusters providing considerable redundancy in its ability to maneuver on its way to the surface of Bennu and back. OSIRIS-REx began using its Attitude Control System (ACS) thrusters shortly after launch to keep the spacecraft oriented, so that its solar arrays point toward the sun and its communication antennas point toward Earth. Today was the first use of its larger Trajectory Correction Maneuver (TCM) thrusters. In December OSIRIS-REx will use its largest thrusters, the Main Engine (ME) thrusters, to target the spacecraft for its Earth Gravity Assist scheduled for Sept. 22, 2017. Its smallest thrusters, the Low Thrust Reaction Engine Assembly (LTR) thrusters, will be used for the delicate maneuvers close to the surface of the asteroid Bennu.

    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center 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 observation planning and processing. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver built the spacecraft and is providing spacecraft 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. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the agency’s New Frontiers Program for its Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

  46. NASA’s Asteroid-Bound Spacecraft Aces Instrument Check

    September 26, 2016 -

    Its science instruments have been powered on, and NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft continues on its journey to an asteroid. The spacecraft has passed its initial instrument check with flying colors as it speeds toward a 2018 rendezvous with the asteroid Bennu.

    On Sept. 19, the OCAMS MapCam camera recorded a star field in Taurus, north of the top of the constellation Orion as part of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft’s post-launch aliveness test. MapCam's first color image is a composite of three of its four color filters, roughly corresponding to blue, green, and red wavelengths. The three images are processed to remove noise, co-registered, and enhanced to emphasize dimmer stars. Color variation in the stars at the pixel level highlights the motivation for calibrating the color response of the camera, which will occur in 6 months. This composite was derived from the following images: 20160919T162228S6220_map_L0b_V001.fits, 20160919T162251S4210_map_L0v_V001.fits, 20160919T162314S3180_map_L0w_V001.fits, 20160919T162337S6670_map_L0x_V001.fits. Credit: NASA/GSFC/University of Arizona

    On Sept. 19, the OCAMS MapCam camera recorded a star field in Taurus, north of the top of the constellation Orion as part of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft’s post-launch aliveness test. MapCam’s first color image is a composite of three of its four color filters, roughly corresponding to blue, green, and red wavelengths. The three images are processed to remove noise, co-registered, and enhanced to emphasize dimmer stars. Credit: NASA/GSFC/University of Arizona

    Last week NASA’s spacecraft designed to collect a sample of an asteroid ran the first check of its onboard instruments. Starting on Sept. 19, engineers controlling the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft powered on and operated the mission’s five science instruments and one of its navigational instruments. The data received from the checkout indicate that the spacecraft and its instruments are all healthy.

    Instrument testing commenced with the OSIRIS-REx Camera Suite (OCAMS), provided by the University of Arizona. On Monday, OCAMS executed its power-on and test sequence with no issues. The cameras recorded a star field in Taurus north of the constellation Orion along with Orion’s bright red star Betelgeuse. The three OCAMS cameras performed flawlessly during the test.

    On Monday and Wednesday, the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA), contributed by the Canadian Space Agency, conducted its test sequences, which included a firing of its laser.  All telemetry received from the OLA instrument was as expected.

    On Tuesday, both the OSIRIS-REx Visible and Infrared Spectrometer (OVIRS), provided by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, and the OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emissions Spectrometer (OTES), provided by Arizona State University, were separately powered on for tests. Data from both during the checkout showed that the instruments were healthy. The science measurements acquired from OTES exceeded the instrument’s performance requirements.

    On Wednesday, the student experiment from MIT, the Regolith X-ray Imaging Spectrometer (REXIS), executed its functional test with no problems.  And on Thursday, the Touch and Go Camera System (TAGCAMS) navigational camera was powered on and tested, and it operated as expected.  As part of its checkout, TAGCAMS took an image of the spacecraft’s Sample Return Capsule.

    The first light images of star fields from OCAMS’s MapCam and PolyCam illustrate each camera’s specialized function. MapCam’s medium resolution and wider field-of-view will help map the entire surface of Bennu in color. While PolyCam’s field of view is much smaller, it can see much fainter objects at a higher resolution. PolyCam’s ability to act as a telescopic will help the OSIRIS-REx team spot Bennu while it is still a point of light against a field of stars. Images used: 20160919T162205S7220_map_L0pan_V001.fits, 20160919T163144S6440_pol_L0pan_V001.fits Credit: NASA/GSFC/University of Arizona

    The first light images of star fields from OCAMS’s MapCam and PolyCam illustrate each camera’s specialized function. MapCam’s medium resolution and wider field-of-view will help map the entire surface of Bennu in color. While PolyCam’s field of view is much smaller, it can see much fainter objects at a higher resolution. PolyCam’s ability to act as a telescopic will help the OSIRIS-REx team spot Bennu while it is still a point of light against a field of stars. Credit: NASA/GSFC/University of Arizona

    The downlink of the test data continued through Sunday via the spacecraft’s low gain antenna (LGA), which transmitted at 40 kbps to NASA’s Deep Space Network.

    Goddard Space Flight Center 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. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver built the spacecraft and is providing spacecraft flight operations. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the agency’s New Frontiers Program for its Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

  47. OSIRIS-REx Mission Status Report – Sept. 15

    September 15, 2016 -

    One week post-launch, NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft remains healthy and is on track for its two-year journey to the asteroid Bennu.  As of noon EDT Thursday, the spacecraft was approximately 2 million miles (3.2 million kilometers) from Earth, traveling at approximately 12,300 miles per hour (19,800 kilometers per hour) relative to Earth.  All of the spacecraft’s subsystems are operating as expected.

    This is the first image from the OSIRIS-REx star tracker taken on Monday, Sept. 12. Similar to the way early sailors used the stars to navigate, the star tracker on OSIRIS-REx takes images of the stars and compares them to an on-board catalogue, which then tells the spacecraft navigation systems its attitude, or which way it is pointing. Credits: NASA

    This is the first image from the OSIRIS-REx star tracker taken on Monday, Sept. 12. Similar to the way early sailors used the stars to navigate, the star tracker on OSIRIS-REx takes images of the stars and compares them to an on-board catalogue, which then tells the spacecraft navigation systems its attitude, or which way it is pointing.
    Credits: NASA

    The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is designed to rendezvous with, study, and return a sample of Bennu to Earth. This sample of a primitive asteroid will help scientists understand the formation of our solar system more than 4.5 billion years ago.

    After liftoff at 7:05 p.m. EDT on Sept. 8, the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket performed flawlessly and positioned the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft exactly where the mission’s navigation team expected it to be. By 1:30 p.m. EDT on Sept. 9, approximately 18 1/2 hours after launch, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft had crossed the orbital path of the moon at 240,000 miles (386,500 kilometers). By that evening, the spacecraft transitioned from launch operations into its outbound cruise phase.

    On Sept. 12, OSIRIS-REx took its first image from it star tracker navigational camera, proving the system is functioning properly.  The star tracker takes images of the stars and compares them to an on-board catalog, which then tells the spacecraft navigation systems its attitude, or which way it is pointing.

    Next week, the engineers controlling the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will conduct checkouts of the science instruments on board the spacecraft.

    Goddard Space Flight Center 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. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver built the spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the agency’s New Frontiers Program for its Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

  48. PI BLOG: OSIRIS-REx – Day 2 in Space

    September 10, 2016 -

    Our spacecraft continues to operate flawlessly. Kudos to the operations team members who have been tracking and operating the spacecraft since separation! Here are some details on recent status.  After a flawless launch day, day 2 has also progressed as planned […]

  49. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Speeds Toward Asteroid Rendezvous

    September 8, 2016 -

    NASA’s first asteroid sampling mission launched into space at 7:05 p.m. EDT Thursday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, beginning a journey that could revolutionize our understanding of the early solar system.

    The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft launches aboard a ULA Atlas V 411 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Credit: United Launch Alliance

    The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft launches aboard a ULA Atlas V 411 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Credit: United Launch Alliance

    “Today, we celebrate a huge milestone for this remarkable mission, and for this mission team,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “We’re very excited about what this mission can tell us about the origin of our solar system, and we celebrate the bigger picture of science that is helping us make discoveries and accomplish milestones that might have been science fiction yesterday, but are science facts today.”

    The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft is designed to rendezvous with, study, and return a sample of the asteroid Bennu to Earth. Asteroids like Bennu are remnants from the formation of our solar system more than 4.5 billion years ago. Scientists suspect that asteroids may have been a source of the water and organic molecules for the early Earth and other planetary bodies. An uncontaminated asteroid sample from a known source would enable precise analyses, providing results far beyond what can be achieved by spacecraft-based instruments or by studying meteorites.

    OSIRIS-REx separated from its United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at 8:04 p.m. The solar arrays deployed and are now powering the spacecraft.

    “With today’s successful launch, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft embarks on a journey of exploration to Bennu,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “I couldn’t be more proud of the team that made this mission a reality, and I can’t wait to see what we will discover at Bennu.”

    In 2018, OSIRIS-REx will approach Bennu – which is the size of a small mountain – and begin an intricate dance with the asteroid, mapping and studying Bennu in preparation for sample collection. In July 2020, the spacecraft will perform a daring maneuver in which its 11-foot arm will reach out and perform a five-second “high-five” to stir up surface material, collecting at least 2 ounces (60 grams) of small rocks and dust in a sample return container. OSIRIS-REx will return the sample to Earth in September 2023, when it will then be transported to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston for examination.

    The OSIRIS-REx mission will be the first U.S. mission to carry samples from an asteroid back to Earth and the largest sample returned from space since the Apollo era.

    “It’s satisfying to see the culmination of years of effort from this outstanding team,” said Mike Donnelly, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “We were able to deliver OSIRIS-REx on time and under budget to the launch site, and will soon do something that no other NASA spacecraft has done – bring back a sample from an asteroid.”

    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 of Arizona leads the science team and observation planning and processing. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver built the spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the agency’s New Frontiers Program for its Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Launch and countdown management is the responsibility of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

  50. PI BLOG: The Atlas V 411 AV-067: Our Ride to Space

    August 23, 2016 -

    OSIRIS-REx is scheduled for lift-off from Space Launch Complex-41 (SLC-41) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on September 8, 2016 at 7:05 pm EDT. The daily launch window is almost two hours long, extending to 9:00 pm EDT. The entire launch window is 34 days long, extending through October 11, 2016.

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