NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft Adjusts Speed In Hot Pursuit Of Dangerous Asteroid Bennu

Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image LabNASA

Asteroid Bennu is a 1,640-foot-wide (500 meters) space rock that could end up on a collision course with Earth sometime in the next century.

Hurtling through space at incredible speeds, the asteroid is currently at a safe distance from our planet and lies some 54 million miles away. But come 2135, asteroid Bennu has a one in 2,700 chance of becoming a threat and smashing into Earth.

Not to worry though, NASA is on the move and, as previously reported by the Inquisitr, has already planned to nuke the asteroid on that fatidic date.

However, before breaking out the nukes, the space agency wants to study the asteroid first and even snag some rock samples for future analyses.

Enter the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, short for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer. Launched on September 8, 2016, the space probe was sent out to chase Bennu and is expected to reach the asteroid later this year, on December 3.

The OSIRIS-REx Mission

The spacecraft’s mission is to orbit Bennu and gather as much data as possible from above the space rock, notes Space. Once this part of the job is over, OSIRIS-REx will be swooping in on the asteroid’s surface in July, 2020, to collect physical samples from the 87-million-ton space rock.

The asteroid samples are to be packed in a special capsule and returned to Earth in September, 2023. Once this happens, scientists will be able to learn more about this potentially dangerous asteroid.

But we still have a long ways to go until that time, and the main concern that OSIRIS-REx has right now is first getting to Bennu.

To that effect, the spacecraft has recently performed an engine burn maneuver, firing its main thruster to adjust its speed by 37 mph (60 km/h), NASA announced at the beginning of the week.

Conducted on June 28, the procedure is the second Deep Space Maneuver (DSM-2) successfully pulled off by the OSIRIS-REx since the spacecraft started its journey toward asteroid Bennu, notes the space agency.

Four More To Go

The first big engine burn executed by the OSIRIS-REx came three months after launch, in December, 2016. Between then and now, the spacecraft performed a number of small thruster firings last September, when the OSIRIS-REx did a flyby of Earth in preparation for a gravity assist maneuver.

While the DSM-2 cost the space probe about 28.2 pounds (12.8 kilograms) of fuel, the procedure is a necessary step that sets the stage for another type of maneuver designed to facilitate its approach to Bennu, stated NASA officials.

“The thruster burn put the spacecraft on course for a series of asteroid-approach maneuvers to be executed this fall that will culminate with the spacecraft’s scheduled arrival at asteroid Bennu on December 3.”

There will be four asteroid-approach maneuvers in total, and are scheduled to take place this fall, with the first one slated for early October. Called Asteroid Approach Maneuver 1 (AAM-1), the procedure will help OSIRIS-REx reduce its speed relative to Bennu from 1,130 mph to 320 mph (1,820 to 515 km/h).