Tag Archives: OSIRIS-Rex

Calculating Bennu’s future

In order to better constrain Bennu’s future fly-bys of the Earth, including the possibility that it could impact the planet, scientists will be using the data sent from OSIRIS-REx to better understand its orbit, its composition, its surface make-up, and its thermal properties, all factors that can influence its future path in space.

This is really important, as Bennu has a good chance of hitting the Earth in the future.

About a third of a mile, or half a kilometer, wide, Bennu is large enough to reach Earth’s surface; many smaller space objects, in contrast, burn up in our atmosphere. If it impacted Earth, Bennu would cause widespread damage. Asteroid experts at the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, project that Bennu will come close enough to Earth over the next century to pose a 1 in 2,700 chance of impacting it between 2175 and 2196. Put another way, those odds mean there is a 99.963 percent chance the asteroid will miss the Earth. Even so, astronomers want to know exactly where Bennu is located at all times.

The article provides a good overview of the difficulty of properly calculating Bennu’s orbit into the future, and how the data from OSIRIS-REx will help make those calculations more precise.

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OSIRIS-REx at Bennu

OSIRIS-REx has successfully completed its last maneuver engine burn to place it in proximity orbit around the asteroid Bennu.

The link takes you to the live NASA stream, which has been a bit hokey. This event is actually not that visually exciting, a bunch of engineers staring at computer screens awaiting data back from the spacecraft indicating that all has occurred as planned. In fact, some felt a bit staged, though the actual event was really happening.

The OSIRIS-REx team has released relatively little data so far, compared to most NASA missions. There will be a press conference in a week when they say they will release more information. I guess we will have to wait until then.

Update: the live stream has shifted to the docking of the manned Soyuz capsule at ISS, which is in itself a more riveting event than OSIRIS-REx’s last engine burn.

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Bennu from 85 miles

Bennu at 85 miles

The OSIRIS-REx science team today released a new image of Bennu, taken by the spacecraft from only 85 miles on November 16, two weeks ago Its contrast has been increased to bring out the details.

The asteroid continues to remind me of Ryugu, a rubble pile of boulders with few smooth spots. I suspect the OSIRIS-REx engineers are going to struggle as much as the Hayabusa-2 engineers are in an effort to find a safe spot to grab a sample. The advantage however for OSIRIS-REx is that the main body of the spacecraft doesn’t have to get as close to the surface as with Hayabusa-2. They will come down only close enough for the robot arm to touch down.

Rendezvous is set for December 3.

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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.

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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.

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OSIRIS-REx snaps image of target asteroid Bennu

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.

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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.

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OSIRIS-REx to search for Earth’s Trojan asteroids

As it heads outward for a rendezvous with the asteroid Bennu, OSIRIS-REx will turn on its instruments for 12 days in February 2017 to hunt for the Trojan asteroids that likely orbit the Sun in the Earth’s orbit 60 degrees ahead and behind it.

Six planets in our solar system are known to harbor Trojan asteroids — Jupiter, Neptune, Mars, Venus, Uranus and Earth. Although more than 6,000 Trojan asteroids are known to be orbiting along with Jupiter, scientists have discovered only one Earth Trojan to date: 2010 TK7, found by NASA’s NEOWISE project in 2010. Scientists predict that there should be more Trojans orbiting Earth, but these asteroids are difficult to detect because they appear close to the sun from Earth’s point of view. In mid-February 2017, however, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will be ideally positioned to undertake a survey of the stable point in front of Earth.

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. MapCam is part of the OSIRIS-REx Camera Suite, or OCAMS, which was designed and built by researchers at the UA’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory.

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A visit to OSIRIS-Rex clean room

NASA recently gave a press tour of the clean room where the asteroid probe OSIRIS-Rex is being prepped for its September 8 launch, and one reporter from that tour wrote a very nice description of what it was like.

After such a tour, most reporters write up stories that describe the spaceship, its mission, and its status. This reporter however did something better. He wrote up what it’s like to enter a clean room for a mission only weeks from launch.

Our belongings have been lined up in a row alongside us. And then the dog arrives.

It’s a beautiful specimen of a german shepherd, long and enthusiastic, being led by a sturdy military-type with a buzzcut wearing what looks like mercenary gear. The dog is led down the row of belongings once. Then twice. Then he and his owner head back to their truck and drive off. We have passed. We are free to go into the blessed blast of cool air on the bus that’s been idling alongside us for what seems like hours, but has really only been about 15 minutes.

And that’s only the start. Read it all. Quite fascinating.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Astronomers take one last close look at 1999 RQ36 before sending mission there

Astronomers plan one last close look at 1,900-foot-wide asteroid before sending a space probe there to collect samples.

Discovered in 1999, the OSIRIS-REx target asteroid, designated 1999 RQ36, nears Earth once every six years. During the 2011 closest approach in early September, it will be 10.9 million miles (17.5 million kilometers) away. In 1999, closest approach was 1.4 million miles (2.3 million kilometers).

Strangely, the article above never mentions the fact that 1999 RQ36 has 1 in a 1000 chance of hitting the Earth in 2182, which to my mind is the primary reason for studying it.

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Asteroid sample return mission on slate for 2016

Asteroid sample return mission on slate for NASA in 2016. The asteroid chosen in 1999 RQ36, which is significant.

The space rock has been classified as a potentially hazardous asteroid, since its orbit brings it close to Earth in the year 2182. There is an extremely remote chance (a recent study pegs it at about 1-in-1000) that the 1,900-foot-wide (579-meter) asteroid could pose a threat to Earth.

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