OSIRIS-REx Snaps Parting Shot of Bennu Departs for Earth with Treasure Trove of Primordial Asteroid Samples

OSIRIS-Rex Snaps Parting Shot of Bennu Departs for Earth with Treasure Trove of Primordial Asteroid Samples
On April 9, 2021, NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft took one last look at Bennu, the asteroid from which it scooped up a sample last October. Slated for return to Earth in 2023, the mission is on track to deliver a sample of pristine material left over from the formation of our solar system into the hands of researchers on Earth. This image, the last one taken by the spacecraft, shows crescent Bennu with its night side merging with the complete black of space as the spacecraft pushed away from Bennu. Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona. Additional processing: Ken Kremer/Space UpClose

For SpaceUpClose.com & RocketSTEM

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL – NASA’s bold and wildly successful OSIRIS-REx spacecraft successful fired up its main engine for seven minutes Monday afternoon, May 10, to bid adieu and depart Asteroid Bennu placing the probe on a trajectory heading for a return to Earth in 2023 and delivery of a treasure trove of pristine primordial asteroid material – but not before snapping a potent parting shot of the ancient 4.5 Billion year old rubble strewn body it called home since arriving in 2018 for unprecedented science investigations and sample gathering.

After nearly five years in space, NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft is on its way back to Earth with an abundance of rocks and dust from the 510-meter-wide near-Earth asteroid Bennu, NASA officials confirmed during a live webcast of the momentous event Monday.

Asteroid Bennu arrival rotation movie. Credit: NASA

“On Monday, May 10, at 4:23 p.m. EDT the spacecraft fired its main engines full throttle for seven minutes – its most significant maneuver since it arrived at Bennu in 2018.”

“The main engine burn thrust the spacecraft away from the asteroid at 600 miles per hour (nearly 1,000 kilometers per hour), setting it on a 2.5-year cruise towards Earth.”

Before departing OSIRIS-Rex captured a parting shot on April 9 to bid adieu to the crescent Bennu – using the navigation cameras that helped orient the spacecraft in relation to Bennu. Thereafter the navcam was turned off.

“This image, the last one taken by the spacecraft, shows crescent Bennu with its night side merging with the complete black of space as the spacecraft pushed away from Bennu,” wrote the team.

Last October 20, 2020 OSIRIS-Rex completed its primary mission goal when it successfully gathered, stowed and sealed an overflowing huge sample estimated at perhaps a kilogram (2 pounds) or more of asteroid Bennu soil and rocks inside the probes Sample Return Capsule (SRC) for the return trip to Earth.

After a then four year journey of over 200 million miles (321 million km) from Earth and two years in orbit the $1 Billion OSIRIS-REx mission touched and sampled Asteroid Bennu for six seconds at the Nightingale sample site.

Here’s a summary of the epic images from the TAG event on Oct 20, 2020:

OSIRIS-REx counts as NASA’s first ever mission aimed at gathering samples of asteroidal dust and pebbles from the surface of an asteroid with the goal of safe  delivery back to Earth in 2023 in a sample return canister for high powered scientific analysis by the most advanced research instruments available.

NASA’s first asteroid sample retrieval mission took place on a carbon rich Near Earth Asteroid collecting pristine soil and rock samples dating back to the origin of the solar system 4.5 Billion years ago  and perhaps gives clues to the origin of life on Earth as well.

The left image shows the OSIRIS-REx collector head hovering over the Sample Return Capsule (SRC) after the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism arm moved it into the proper position for capture. The right image shows the collector head secured onto the capture ring in the SRC. Both images were captured by the StowCam camera on Oct. 27, 2020. The SRC will return to Earth in 2023. Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/Lockheed Martin

The May 10 main engine firing placed OSIRIS-Rex on course for a flyby of Earth within about 6,000 miles (approximately 10,000 kilometers) in Sept. 2023 when it will again fire its main engine for release of the sample return capsule and complete its primary mission.

The engine firing will also put it on a trajectory to circle the sun inside of Venus’ orbit for a potential extended mission to another asteroid after successfully returning the sample capsule to Earth – since the probe has plenty of fuel remaining.

The team will investigate the feasibility of an extended mission starting this summer now that the probe is on its way back to Earth.

After orbiting the Sun twice, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is due to reach Earth Sept. 24, 2023 and release the capsule containing samples of Bennu and separate from the rest of the spacecraft and enter Earth’s atmosphere.

A camera aboard NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft showed the mission’s sample return capsule closed its heat shield late Wednesday after a robotic arm placed asteroid samples inside for the trip back to Earth. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/Lockheed Martin

The sample return capsule (SRC) will parachute to the Utah Test and Training Range in Utah’s West Desert, where scientists will be waiting to retrieve it.

“OSIRIS-REx’s many accomplishments demonstrated the daring and innovate way in which exploration unfolds in real time,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters. “The team rose to the challenge, and now we have a primordial piece of our solar system headed back to Earth where many generations of researchers can unlock its secrets.”

 

Bennu height comparison: Credit: NASA

So the team’s goal ahead is to carefully navigate OSIRIS-Rex back to Earth and deliver the sample return canister for a parachute assisted soft landing intact on the Utah desert.

“Our whole mindset has been, ‘Where are we in space relative to Bennu?’” said Mike Moreau, OSIRIS-REx deputy project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Now our mindset has shifted to ‘Where is the spacecraft in relation to Earth?’”

 

The Nightingale sample site was very small – about the size of 3 parking spots – about 25 feet (8 meters) in diameter.  It was surrounded by a few rather large boulders and rocks inside the crater

Overall Bennu is much more rugged and dominated by rocks and boulders – compared to the simpler smooth beach-sand like consistency expected prelaunch.

So the team had carried out an incredibly detailed analysis of the surface to find a safe sampling spot- as the asteroid is rotating with a period of 4.3 hours

Bennu has an active surface and is ejecting material

The spacecraft has extensively surveyed the asteroid before the mission team selected two possible sample sites. Close examination of these sites  allowed the team to pick one for sample collection – and it succeeded brilliantly at Nightingale

 

OSIRIS-REx was launched on Sept. 8, 2016 on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station carrying NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on the first U.S. mission to sample an asteroid, retrieve at least two ounces of surface material and return it to Earth for study. Liftoff was at 7:05 p.m. EDT on September 8, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Watch the May 10 edition of Stay Curious’ for my live interview about OSIRIS-Rex,  Ingenuity and Perseverance, as well as Artemis, SLS, SpaceX launches and much more

 

Watch Ken’s continuing reports about OSIRIS-REx, Commercial Crew and Artemis and onsite for live reporting of upcoming and recent SpaceX and ULA launches including Demo-2, Starlink, X-37B, Solar Orbiter, Mars 2020 and more at the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

Watch Ken’s continuing reports about OSIRIS-REx. Mars 2020 Perseverance and Curiosity rovers, Artemis and NASA missions, SpaceX, Starlink, Commercial Crew and Starliner and Crew Dragon and onsite for live reporting of upcoming and recent SpaceX and ULA launches including Crew 1 & 2, Demo-2, ISS, X-37B, Solar Orbiter, NRO spysats and national security missions and more at the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news: www.kenkremer.com –www.spaceupclose.com – twitter @ken_kremer – email: ken at kenkremer.com

Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed regularly on TV and radio about space topics.
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Ken’s photos are for sale and he is available for lectures and outreach events

Ken has created hundreds of widely published Mars rover mosaics and lectures also about NASA’s Mars rovers, human spaceflight and more

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May 15: 11 AM to 3 PM at the American Space Museum, Titusville.  Ask Ken anything about NASA and Space Force missions and launches.  Ken will have a display of his Space and rocket photos and Mars mosaics for sale along  with Jean Wright will have a display of her space themed apparel and face masks for sale to support our ad free space news website – Space UpClose

Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx’s principal investigator from the University of Arizona, and Ken Kremer of Space UpClose, pose with NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft in KSC cleanroom prior to launch. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

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Ken Kremer

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of NASA, SpaceX, ULA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and more space and mission reports direct from Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Stay tuned here for Ken's continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news. Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed regularly on TV and radio about space topics. Ken’s photos are for sale and he is available for lectures and outreach events.

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