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The OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft will make a farewell flight over the asteroid Bennu

The spaceship OSIRISREx from NASA will perform a final 3,700-meter flyby of the asteroid Determining on April 7 to study the footprint left on the surface after the collection of samples destined for the Land which he carried out on October 20, 2020.

The team of OSIRISREx decided to add this last flyby after the surface of Determining was significantly disturbed by the sample collection event. During the landing, the spacecraft’s sampling head sank 19 inches into the asteroid’s surface and simultaneously fired a pressurized charge of nitrogen gas. The spacecraft’s thrusters also mobilized a substantial amount of surface material during the recoil combustion. Because the severity of Determining is so weak, these various forces from the spacecraft had a dramatic effect on the sample site, throwing up many of the region’s rocks and a lot of dust in the process. This final flyby of Determining will provide the mission team with an opportunity to learn how the spacecraft’s contact with the surface of Determining altered the sample site and the region around it.

Farewell to Bennu

The flyby will mimic one of the observation sequences conducted during the mission’s detailed reconnaissance phase in 2019. OSIRISREx will take pictures of Determining for 5.9 hours, which is little more than a full rotation period of the asteroid. Within this time period, the spacecraft’s PolyCam imager will obtain high-resolution images of the northern and southern hemispheres of Determining and its equatorial region. The team will then compare these new images with previous high-resolution images of the asteroid obtained during 2019.

Most of the other science instruments on the spacecraft will also collect data during the flyby, including the MapCam imager, the thermal emission spectrometer of OSIRISREx (OTES), the visible and infrared spectrometer of OSIRISREx (OVIRS) and the laser altimeter OSIRISREx (WAVE). The work of these instruments will give the team the opportunity to assess the current status of each scientific instrument aboard the spacecraft, as dust covered the instruments during the sample collection event. Understanding the health of the instruments is also part of the evaluation of the NASA of possible extended mission opportunities after the sample is delivered to the Land.

After the flyby of Determining, it will take several days for the overflight data to be sent to the Land. Once the data has been downloaded, the team will inspect the images to understand how OSIRIS-REx altered the material on the asteroid’s surface. At this point, the team will also be able to evaluate the work of the scientific instruments, reports the NASA.

The spacecraft will remain in the vicinity of the asteroid Determining until May 10, when the mission will enter its return cruise phase and begin its two-year journey back to the Land. As you get closer to the Land, the spacecraft will drop the Sample Return Capsule (SRC) containing the rocks and dust collected from Determining. The SRC will then travel through Earth’s atmosphere and land under a parachute at the Utah Test and Training Range on September 24, 2023.

Once recovered, the capsule will be transported to the conservation facility at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, where the sample will be removed for distribution to laboratories around the world, allowing scientists to study the formation of our solar system and Land like a habitable planet. (Europa Press)

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