OSIRIS-Rex Mission Updates
OSIRIS-Rex launched on Sept. 8, 2016, and arrived at asteroid Bennu on Dec. 3, 2018. It began orbiting the carbon-rich asteroid on December 31, 2018.
A dramatic, yet fleeting, touchdown on Oct. 20, 2020, saw Bennu gather up a sample from the surface before commencing the long voyage home on May 10, 2021.
OSIRIS-REx’s sample return capsule is scheduled to transport a sample of Bennu back to Earth at 10:55 a.m. EDT (1455 GMT) on Sept. 24, 2023, but that will not be the end of the primary spacecraft’s mission. It will be retasked to pass by the near-Earth asteroid Apophis in 2029 with a new moniker: OSIRIS-Apophis Explorer, or OSIRIS-APEX.
Where is OSIRIS-REx now?
OSIRIS-REx is presently on its journey back to Earth, where it will deliver materials it obtained from the near-Earth object Bennu in 2020. It is due to deliver the samples at 10:55 a.m. EDT (1455 GMT) on Sept. 24, 2023.
Has OSIRIS-REx returned to Earth?
OSIRIS-REx isn’t going back to Earth. Instead, it will deliver samples of asteroid Bennu on September 24, 2023, and then continue its extended mission to investigate asteroid Apophis in 2029.
What is OSIRIS-REx, and why is it important?
OSIRIS-REx is a bold asteroid-sampling mission. It launched on Sept. 8, 2016, and joined orbit around the near-Earth asteroid Bennu on Dec. 31, 2018, before a brief touchdown on Oct. 20, 2020, where it retrieved a sample from the surface of the asteroid.
OSIRIS-REx is important because it is the first U.S. mission to collect a sample from an asteroid. When the sample is returned to the planet, it will help scientists learn more about how the early solar system formed as well as how life began.
It could also enable us to better comprehend asteroids that could potentially impact Earth in the future.
Was OSIRIS-REx a success?
OSIRIS-REx successfully collected a sample from near-Earth asteroid Bennu on December 31, 2018, and is due to return the sample to Earth on September 24, 2023.
The $800 million OSIRIS-REx (Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer) mission, along with missions to study Venus (Surface and Atmosphere Geochemical Explorer, or SAGE) and the moon (MoonRise), was named a finalist for NASA’s New Frontiers mission class in 2009. 2011 saw the selection of OSIRIS-REx as the winning entry.
A series of medium-class spacecraft missions under the New Frontiers program are designed to further our knowledge of the solar system.
The first two missions chosen for that program were New Horizons, which passed by the dwarf planet Pluto in 2015 and by the object 2014 MU69 in 2019, and the Juno mission, which arrived in orbit around Jupiter in 2016 and is still in use there.
OSIRIS-REx was the third mission chosen for that program. Launched on September 8, 2016, OSIRIS-REx made a quick trip back home to perform a flyby of Earth that increased its speed.
Bennu received the inquiry on December 3, 2018. Before exactly slotting into orbit in the month after its arrival, OSIRIS-REx obtained extensive measurements of Bennu’s shape and mass.
The asteroid mission broke two records: OSIRIS-REx conducted the closest orbit of a tiny body ever, at barely 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) from the surface, and Bennu is the smallest body a spacecraft has ever orbited (the space rock has a diameter of 1,640 feet or 500 meters).
Incomparable depth was investigated, mapped, and researched by the five instruments on board the spacecraft:
OSIRIS-REx Visible and Infrared Spectrometer (OVIRS): OVIRS looks for organics and other minerals by monitoring visible and near-infrared light.
OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer (OTES): OTES measured Bennu’s temperature and mapped its mineral and chemical abundances using thermal infrared. Bennu was mapped using a combination of OVIRS and OTES to determine the ideal location for sample collection.
Three cameras from the OSIRIS-REx Camera Suite (OCAMS) were used to map Bennu. The biggest camera, PolyCam, took the first pictures of Bennu from 1.2 million miles (2 million kilometers) away and also took high-resolution pictures of the test site.
MapCam scoured the asteroid’s vicinity for satellites and dust clouds, colored-mapped it, and snapped pictures to produce topography maps. SamCam recorded the procedure for taking the sample and capturing it.
Bennu’s whole surface will be scanned by the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA), which will transmit back data to build very precise 3D representations of the asteroid’s surface. Although one of the two lasers,
which were both manufactured in Canada, failed during the main mission, it continued to function beyond the estimated instrument lifespan and gathered all the data necessary for OSIRIS-REx to land, according to the findings of the time.
Regolith X-ray Imaging Spectrometer (RExIS): Analyzing Bennu’s X-ray emissions was anticipated to aid in the development of a map depicting the distribution of various components on the surface. RExIS investigated the asteroid’s composition down to the level of individual atomic elements, unlike previous imaging tools.
PERIOD OF MISSION
After launch, the spacecraft performed two deep-space maneuvers. On December 28, 2016, the first one occurred, preparing the spacecraft for its gravity assist with Earth.
On Sept. 22, 2017, OSIRIS-REx performed a flyby of Earth to gain speed for its trip to Bennu, which took place over a year later. Over Antarctica, the spacecraft came within around 10,700 miles (17,200 km) of the planet’s surface.
The flyby was completed smoothly and boosted OSIRIS-REx’s speed by around 8,500 mph (13,000 km/h). After that, the spacecraft continued on its trip to Bennu.
Throughout its journey, the OSIRIS-REx captured some breathtaking pictures of Earth and its moon from a distance of just over 3 million miles (5 million kilometers).
Before performing a series of successful asteroid-approach operations to position the spacecraft close to Bennu, where it safely landed on December 3, 2018, the spacecraft completed its second and last big deep-space maneuver on June 28, 2018.
Scientists selected a location to sample, a stony section known as Nightingale, after extensively studying the asteroid.
On October 21, 2020, a perfect landing took only six seconds to complete, activating the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM).
TAGSAM fired a sample of pure nitrogen gas onto the surface of the asteroid as OSIRIS-REx got closer to it. Regolith, a mixture of rock fragments and surface dust, was forced into the sampler’s chamber.
To account for any measurement mistakes, OSIRIS-REx was tasked with gathering at least 2 ounces (60 g) of asteroid material and preferably 5 ounces (150 g). According to NASA, the spacecraft comfortably exceeded the initial target of 2 ounces, or 60 grams.
While the initial objective was met, OSIRIS-REx did have three bottles of nitrogen gas to enable more collecting efforts.
Additionally, TAGSAM was certified to transport up to 70 ounces (2,000 g). (Scientists evaluated the angular acceleration of the spacecraft before and after the sample was taken to weigh the sample in the low-gravity environment.)
On April 7, 2021, OSIRIS-REx completed its last flyby of Bennu, and on May 10 of the same year, it returned to Earth. On September 24, 2023, the sample capsule is scheduled to return to Earth while the primary spacecraft continues to Apophis in preparation for a 2029 encounter.
SAMPLING MISSIONS FOR ASTEROID
Asteroids act as basic blueprints for the early solar system since they are the leftover parts from the planets’ construction. Scientists may learn about the early solar system and the formation of planets by studying them.
While OSIRIS-REx is the first asteroid mission to return samples to the United States, Japan has previously returned samples from two prior missions with a similar purpose.
In 2010, Hayabusa became the first spacecraft to return a piece of an asteroid to Earth. In 2020, the Hayabusa2 Japanese sample-return mission replicated the procedure with the asteroid Ryugu.
Another example is NASA’s Dawn mission, which stopped at the asteroid Vesta before traveling to the dwarf planet Ceres.
The OSIRIS-REx mission, in contrast to the Dawn mission, intends to bring back a chunk of Bennu for in-depth laboratory research that isn’t feasible from orbit.
To meet their objectives in terms of science, the OSIRIS-REx team hopes to gather at least 2 ounces (60 grams) of material.
The secondary goal of OSIRIS-REx is to advance our understanding of potentially dangerous asteroid motions. (Despite decades of sky-searching, there is currently nothing to be concerned about, but a study is still underway.)
Although Bennu and Apophis are classified as “potentially hazardous” asteroids, this is more of a statistical label than something that should cause concern.
Astronomers may use OSIRIS-REx to better understand the Yarkovsky effect on asteroids. This phenomenon happens when heat from the sun gives an asteroid or other object a slight push that changes its motion.
Even if the push is small, it may increase with time and alter the course that a space rock takes. Studying this impact, however, may be difficult since it changes depending on the form of each asteroid.