The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft was making its final flight past asteroid Bennu on Wednesday.
The spacecraft made history when it briefly touched upon the asteroid on October 20, 2020, and collected a sample of 2 ounces from the surface.
The specimen hidden safely inside the spacecraft will be returned to Earth in 2023.
The OSIRIS-REx mission, officially known as Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer first arrived in the asteroid in December 2018 and orbits it continuously.
During Wednesday’s flight, the spacecraft received one close-up of Bennu, capable of capturing images of the asteroid’s surface from a distance of just 2.3 miles. Example in October, which is a mess.
The asteroid̵7;s surface was disturbed when the OSIRIS-REx sampling head sunk 1.6 feet into the asteroid’s surface. It shoots a charge containing nitrogen gas to interfere with the substrate to make sampling a little easier. Thrusters aboard the spacecraft also released material into the air as the spacecraft retreated from the asteroid after collecting samples.
The gravity on the asteroid was weak, so rocks and dust were released and scattered throughout the process.
The images taken by the spacecraft on Wednesday will show scientists how much the sampling event changed the surface of the asteroid. It will take the spacecraft almost six hours to photograph Bennu, which will allow its cameras to see the asteroid perfectly.
This route is familiar to OSIRIS-REx, which operates in a similar way while searching for a landing site during the 2019 survey.Those images from 2019 will be used with new images to create before and after comparison.
During the flight through the OSIRIS-REx instruments, data will be collected to give mission teams an opportunity to evaluate them after they have been dusted during collection activities. The spacecraft may go on further missions after dropping the Bennu sample to Earth in September 2023, so this assessment will help the team make decisions.
A few days after the flight, all the images and data are sent back to the mission team so they can analyze Bennu’s dynamics and evaluate the spacecraft’s instruments.
OSIRIS-REx will be touring the areas around Bennu until May 10, and then it will begin its two-year and 200 million-mile journey back to Earth.
“Leaving nearby Bennu in May puts us in An ‘sweet spot’ when the maneuvers are off to minimize the use of onboard fuel, ‘said Michael Moreau, OSIRIS-REx deputy manager of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, in a statement.
“However, with a speed change of 593 mph (265 meters per second), this will be the largest drivetrain operated by OSIRIS-REx since approaching Bennu in October 2018.”
Samples from asteroids could provide more light on the formation of the solar system and how elements such as water might have been transported to Earth in the early days by asteroid impact.
As OSIRIS-REx approaches Earth in 2023, it will drop a sample-containing capsule that will shoot through the Earth’s atmosphere and parachute into the Utah desert.
The crew will be ready to retrieve the sample and transfer it to the hangar, where it will be used as a temporary clean room. The samples are then taken off to a lab that is currently under construction at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
“OSIRIS-REx has delivered incredible science,” said Lori Glaze, NASA’s director of planetary science, in a statement. “We are thrilled that this mission is planning one more flight through the asteroid Bennu to provide new information on the response of the asteroid. (Sampling event Touch-and-Go) and a proper farewell. “