On January 14th the OSIRIS-REx team fired the spacecraft’s engines to halt its drift away from the asteroid Bennu and begin its return for one last reconnaissance before heading to Earth with its samples.
OSIRIS-REx executed the first maneuver on Jan. 14, which acted as a braking burn and put the spacecraft on a trajectory to rendezvous with the asteroid one last time. Since October’s sample collection event, the spacecraft has been slowly drifting away from the asteroid, and ended up approximately 1,635 miles (2,200 km) from Bennu. After the braking burn, the spacecraft is now slowly approaching the asteroid and will perform a second approach maneuver on Mar. 6, when it is approximately 155 miles (250 km) from Bennu. OSIRIS-REx will then execute three subsequent maneuvers, which are required to place the spacecraft on a precise trajectory for the final flyby on Apr. 7.
OSIRIS-REx is scheduled to depart Bennu on May 10 and begin its two-year journey back to Earth. The spacecraft will deliver the samples of Bennu to the Utah Test and Training Range on Sep. 24, 2023.
While they will gather images of the whole asteroid, their number one goal will be to get high resolution photos of the sample-grab site Nightingale to see how it was changed by that sample grab. The spacecraft pushed into the asteroid’s rubble pile about 1.6 feet, and that act certainly disturbed both the interior and surface. By comparing the before and after pictures scientists can garner a lot of information about the asteroid’s make-up, density, and structure. It will also teach future engineers what to expect when next they try to touch another rubble-pile asteroid.
From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.
Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.
The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.
He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.
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