Tag Archives: Bennu

OSIRIS-REx unfolds its robot arm

In preparation for its December 3 rendezvous with the asteroid Bennu OSIRIS-REx successfully unfolded its robot arm for the first time since launch this week.

The website has a nice short video showing how the arm will grab its samples. Very innovative, and not what you would expect. The technique had to be clever because Bennu is so small and has such a tiny gravity.


Bennu’s two hemispheres

Bennu's two hemispheres

The image above of the two hemispheres of the asteroid Bennu, cropped and reduced very slightly to post here, was created from several images taken by OSIRIS-REx on two different days last week.

These two super-resolution views of asteroid Bennu were created using eight 2.5-millisecond exposure images captured by OSIRIS-REx on two separate days. The view on the left is composed of eight PolyCam images taken over the span of two minutes on Nov. 1, 2018, when the spacecraft was about 126 miles (203 km) from the asteroid. The one on the right – showing the opposite side of the asteroid – was generated using eight images taken during the same two-minute time slot on Nov. 2, from a distance of about 122 miles (196 km).

The rock on the southern limb is the same in both images, merely seen from opposite sides. Bennu appears very similar to Ryugu, except that there do appear to be dark areas on its surface, possibly crater sites, that might be smooth enough for landing.

The rendezvous at Bennu will occur on December 3.

UPDATE: The OSIRIS-REx science team has now released a short movie showing Bennu’s rotation as imaged during this same time period.


OSIRIS-REx snaps image of target asteroid Bennu


OSIRIS-REx has snapped its sharpest image yet of its target asteroid Bennu, set for a rendezvous on December 3. The image on the right is that image, at full resolution but cropped.

This “super-resolution” view of asteroid Bennu was created using eight images obtained by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on Oct. 29, 2018 from a distance of about 205 miles (330 km). The spacecraft was moving as it captured the images with the PolyCam camera, and Bennu rotated 1.2 degrees during the nearly one minute that elapsed between the first and the last snapshot. The team used a super-resolution algorithm to combine the eight images and produce a higher resolution view of the asteroid. Bennu occupies about 100 pixels and is oriented with its north pole at the top of the image.

It is beginning to appear that the OSIRIS-REx engineering team is going to have the same kind of problems now faced by the Hayabusa-2 engineering team. In this first glance Bennu appears very similar to Ryugu, a rubble pile shaped approximately like a box, rotating on one point. If so, they are also going to find it difficult to locate a smooth landing site.

Bennu by the way is in an orbit that makes a collision with the Earth possible in the late 22nd century. Knowing its composition, density, and solidity is critical for determining what to do, should that collision become likely.


OSIRIS-REx makes second course correction

OSIRIS-REx, on its way to a December rendezvous with the potentially dangerous asteroid Bennu, successfully made its second course correction last week.

Rendezvous is scheduled for December 3rd. The probed will orbit the asteroid for about six months, then dive in to get a sample in July 2020, returning it to Earth in 2023.


ULA shuffles Atlas 5 schedule

ULA has rearranged the upcoming launch schedule of its Atlas 5 in the wake of its investigation of the valve issue that causes a premature shutdown of the first stage Russian engine during the Cygnus launch in March.

Originally they had intended to do three launches before the September 8 launch of NASA’s Osiris-REX asteroid mission. Now they will only do two, to give them additional time to test the rocket that will launch Osiris-REX.

August will be spent stacking an Atlas 5 rocket with a single solid booster, the 411 configuration, and rolling the vehicle to the pad for a rare countdown dress rehearsal to ensure systems are operating correctly ahead of the time-sensitive launch of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx probe to asteroid Bennu.

The spacecraft has a launch window that closes October 12.


OSIRIS-REx to get more fuel for its asteroid mission

In what might be a first for the planetary science/engineering community, an unmanned probe, being built to bring samples back from the asteroid Bennu, is turning out to be lighter than expected, thus allowing engineers to stuff its tanks with extra fuel to extend its mission.

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, being built at a Lockheed Martin facility in Denver, is coming in lighter than the lift capability of the Atlas 5 rocket, which will lift off in its “411” configuration with a four-meter payload fairing, a single-engine Centaur upper stage, and one strap-on solid rocket booster.

The proposal — described as a “heavy launch option” — would add an extra 341 pounds of fuel to the spacecraft’s fuel tank.

Planetary probes never end up lighter than planned, at least until now. During construction scientists have always found it impossible to resist adding more instruments or capabilities, and thus engineers always struggle to get the spacecraft built within its weight budget. For OSIRIS-REx to have this wonderful problem is surely astonishing.


In a NASA contest, a nine-year-old has named asteroid 1999 RQ36 after the Egyptian god Bennu.

A rose by any other name: In a NASA contest, a nine-year-old has named asteroid 1999 RQ36 after the Egyptian god Bennu.

1999 RQ36, or Bennu, is an important asteroid for two reasons. First, NASA is sending an unmanned sample return mission to it in 2016. Second, some calculations suggest the asteroid has a 1 in a 1000 chance of hitting the Earth in 2182.

In other naming news, the private space company Uwingu has launched its “Adopt-a-Planet” campaign.

This open-ended campaign gives anyone in the public—worldwide—the opportunity to adopt exoplanets in astronomical databases via Uwingu’s web site at www.uwingu.com. Proceeds from the naming and voting will continue to help fuel new Uwingu grants to fund space exploration, research, and education.

As noted earlier, they are ignoring the IAU’s stuffy insistence that only the IAU can name things in space.