NASA’s Osiris-Rex is a space probe designed to travel to an asteroid, orbit around it, gather some material from it then return to Earth. Osiris-Rex was launched on September 8, 2016.
Now, OSIRIS-REx is going to fly past Earth on Sept. 22nd and sling-shot itself toward “Bennu.”, an asteroid classified as potentially hazardous to Earth. At its closest approach, OSIRIS-REx will be only 10,711 miles above Earth’s surface, inside the orbit of geosynchronous satellites.
Bennu crosses Earth’s orbit every six years and in 2135, the asteroid may enter what is called a “keyhole” between the Earth and the Moon where the gravitational pull of Earth could slightly change Bennu’s orbit, potentially putting it on course for Earth later in the century. Currently, the odds of a collision 150+ years from now are no more than about 1 in 2700, small, but enough to prompt an $800 million space mission.
The depiction below will give you an idea of just how large Bennu is.
Well, on September 22, Osiris-REx performed admirably. It dipped down over Antarctica, picking up another 8,450 mph, and sped off at about 19,000 mph, heading for Bennu.
Osiris-Rex is scheduled to arrive at Bennu in August of 2018. There, it will spend more than a year flying in close proximity to Bennu using five instruments to survey the asteroid. The resulting maps will be used to pinpoint a safe sampling site, where the probe can each out with a mechanical arm and gather material from the asteroid’s surface. If all goes as planned, Osiris-Rex will return to Earth in the Fall of 2023 for the samples to be analyzed.
We’ll keep you posted over the next 6 years or so, so stay tuned.