Yesterday, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft passed the asteroid Bennu for the last time, ending his two and a half year relationship with the space rock. But OSIRIS-REx is still hovering near the asteroid, as if hesitating to begin its return to Earth from about 200 million miles. That journey starts at the beginning of May.
OSIRIS-REx is transporting precious samples from the asteroid and is expected to return to Earth on September 24, 2023.
“Leaving Bennu’s vicinity in May puts us in the sweet spot, when the departure maneuver will consume the least amount of fuel on board the spacecraft,” said Michael Moreau, a deputy project manager for the OSIRIS-REx mission at NASA’s Goddard. Space Flight. Center in one statementMoreau added that this is the largest propulsion maneuver the spacecraft has performed since Bennu first approached in October 2018.
When OSIRIS-REx left its familiar orbit, it captured images of the asteroid’s surface about 2 miles away. NASA researchers hope these will show how Bennu’s surface changed after the OSIRIS-REx sample collection, which required the spacecraft to blow material off the surface of the rock.
The Touch and Go (TAG) sample collection on October 20, 2020, was a success, but the team added the flyby to their departure schedule to see how they may have altered the asteroid’s surface. The flyby lasted nearly six hours and covered more than one full rotation of the asteroid.
“By examining the distribution of the excavated material around the TAG site, we will learn more about the nature of the surface and underground materials, along with the mechanical properties of the asteroid,” said Dante Lauretta, a planetary scientist. at the University of Arizona and the principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx, in a NASA press release
We’ll keep up with those latest images, which should be out in about a week. The spacecraft shares the antennas for Earthbound communiques with the Perseverance rover, which is also currently relaying messages. So it may take some time.
There is still about a month to go before OSIRIS-REx starts its return journey. Hopefully those latest asteroid images will be enough to keep us intrigued until September 2023.