NASA's asteroid-chasing spacecraft swung by Earth on Friday on its way to a space rock.
The craft, known as Osiris-Rex, was launched one year ago and passed within 10,711 miles (17,237 kilometers) of the home planet early Friday afternoon. Passing above Antarctica, it used Earth's gravity as a slingshot to put it on a path toward the asteroid Bennu.
Osiris-Rex is expected to reach the small, roundish asteroid next year and, by 2020, be able to collect some gravel from the rock for its return to Earth. If all goes well, scientists should get the samples in 2023.
During Friday's flyby, the spacecraft zoomed by at approximately 19,000 mph (31,000 kph). NASA took precautions to ensure Osiris-Rex, which is about the size of an SUV, did not collide with any satellites.
Bennu is just 1,640 feet (500 meters) or so across and circles the Sun in an orbit slightly wider than that of Earth. Osiris-Rex will go into orbit around the asteroid and look for the best spot for grabbing a few handfuls of the bite-size bits of rock. The craft is expected to be able to hover like a hummingbird as a mechanical arm briefly rests on the surface and sucks in samples stirred up by nitrogen gas thrusters.
From the University of Arizona, Dante Lauretta, who is the chief scientist for Osiris-Rex, expressed his excitement about the mission thus far in a tweet on Friday.