NASA's Spacecraft Completes Closest Flyover Of Asteroid Bennu’s Sample Site (Photo Credit: Twitter/@OSIRISREx)
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has recently executed a 620-metre flyover of Nightingale, a site located within a crater high in asteroid Bennu's northern hemisphere. This comes at least a month after NASA selected site for a sample collection from asteroid Bennu. Asteroid 101955 Bennu is a carbonaceous asteroid in the Apollo group discovered by the LINEAR Project on 11 September 1999. It has a mean diameter of approximately 492 metres (the size of the Empire State building) and it may collide with our planet in 2135. The gigantic asteroid has an estimated weight of 79 billion kilograms.
Coming back to OSIRIS-Rex executing a 620-metre flyover of Nightingale, the scientists from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in the US, stated that the spacecraft left its 1.2-kilometre safe home orbit and flew an almost 11-hour transit over the asteroid, aiming its science instruments toward the 16-metre wide sample site before returning to its orbit.
In a statement, NASA said, “OSIRIS-REx's primary goal in the Nightingale flyover was to collect the high-resolution imagery required to complete the spacecraft's Natural Feature Tracking image catalog.” “This catalogue will document the sample collection site's surface features like boulders and craters,” it added.
NASA further stated that in August, when the spacecraft would collect samples from Nightingale, it would use this catalog to navigate with respect to Bennu's surface features. “Using the catalogue, the spacecraft would autonomously predict where on the sample site it will make contact,” the US space agency said.
“In the recent flyby several of the spacecraft's other instruments also took observations of the Nightingale site -- including the OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emissions Spectrometer (OTES), the OSIRIS-REx Visual and InfraRed Spectrometer (OVIRS), the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA), and the MapCam color imager,” NASA noted.
Additionally, the space agency said, a similar flyover of the backup sample collection site, Osprey, is scheduled for February 11, with lower flybys performed later in spring for Nightingale, and in May for Osprey, according to the US space agency.
In the end, NASA asserted that the spacecraft will also perform the two flyovers at an altitude of 250 metres which will be the closest it has ever flown over asteroid Bennu's surface. It is worth mentioning here that NASA’s asteroid-sampling OSIRIS-REx spacecraft arrived at asteroid Bennu in the year 2018 and since then the US space agency is studying space rock.