REx spacecraft zooms by Earth on its way to an asteroid

23 September, 2017, 04:24 | Author: Oscar Goodwin
  • A Nasa spacecraft is about to do a near miss of Earth

Since Bennu has the potential of striking the Earth in the future, studying the Yarkovsky effect on it could allow astrodynamicists to build better models and factor in the anticipated changes to its trajectory and movement as well as of other objects in space (whether to an asteroid, meteor, or spacecraft). The largest was a deep space maneuver on December 28, 2016, that changed the speed and path of the spacecraft to target Earth for the flyby.

OSIRIS-REx is the third of NASA's New Frontiers missions, the first being New Horizons which flew by Pluto and its moons in 2015 and is now on its way to visit 2014 MU69 - a Kuiper Belt object - on January 1, 2019.

After traveling nearly 600 million miles, OSIRIS-REx will approach Earth at a speed of about 19,000 mph.

During the gravity assist, OSIRIS-REx swung through a region of space that contains Earth-orbiting satellites, but emerged intact. The spacecraft will make its closest approach over Antartica near Cape Horn, Chile, 12:52 p.m. eastern time, according to News18.

"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", the mission's principal investigator, Dante Lauretta, said earlier in a statement.

The close approach over Antarctica was expected to take OSIRIS-REx out of contact with its handlers for about 50 minutes. Today's maneuver will adjust its direction and give it the speed it needs to successfully reach the asteroid, known as Bennu.

However amateur astronomers with the right specialised equipment should be able to see OSIRIS-REx as the spacecraft approaches and retreats from its closest position over Earth yet.

The navigation team leader of Osiris-Rex is Michael Moreau and he said that "We're essentially stealing a bit of the Earth's momentum as we go by".

At this point the spacecraft will be approximately two million kilometres away from its target and to complete its mission, OSIRIS-Rex will need to fire its small rocket thrusters so that the spacecraft slows down to match the same velocity as Bennu - around 63,000 miles per hour.

Bennu is just 1,640 feet (500 meters) or so across and circles the sun in an orbit slightly wider than ours.

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.

Campins is one of two UCF faculty selected for the asteroid mission's science team.

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