Once Bennu has its pattern, it can return to an orbit across the asteroid so it may well tag alongside while the rock makes its annual journey across the solar. Bennu is the smallest object ever orbited by a spacecraft, and conserving a secure orbit round one thing so small comes with all kinds of challenges that aren’t concerned in orbiting a planet. It solely takes a tiny quantity of vitality to obtain escape velocity—a human standing on the floor of Bennu might bounce off of it— which implies that OSIRIS-REx has to do all the things extraordinarily slowly if it doesn’t need to fly off into area.
“The gravitational acceleration of Bennu is very small,” says Kenny Getzandanner, the OSIRIS-REx flight dynamics supervisor. “During the descent, we’ll come down at around 10 centimeters per second, which is about the level Bennu was tugging on us to begin with. Getting down slowly gives us plenty of time to do navigation updates, but that’s also just naturally the dynamics of the situation.”
Next March, Bennu will make its closest pass to Earth for the following six years, and OSIRIS-REx will use this window to decouple from the asteroid and begin its journey again house. The spacecraft might be reserving it at round 100,000 miles per hour, however even at that velocity it can take a few 12 months and a half for it to catch up with Earth.
OSIRIS-REx will orient itself on an affect trajectory with Earth. But a couple of hours earlier than it could enter the ambiance, in September 2023, it can jettison the pattern return capsule and carry out a deflection maneuver that may rescue the spacecraft, placing it in orbit across the solar. Meanwhile, the capsule will slam into the ambiance at 27,000 miles per hour. Fisher says the two-foot-broad capsule is protected with the identical type of warmth defend that safely returned samples from NASA’s Stardust mission by the tail of a comet. The OSIRIS-REx crew expects it to land below parachute on the Utah Test and Training Range, a army ordnance facility simply outdoors of Salt Lake, the place it may be tracked throughout its descent.
“We’re coming in rougher and faster than astronauts coming back from the International Space Station,” says Lauretta. “So the samples will get shaken, and the one thing I do worry about is there might be some fragmentation of the material during reentry. But there’s really no way to protect it from that.”
If there’s sufficient propellant left, OSIRIS-REx may have the opportunity to lengthen its mission and do extra science, in any other case it will likely be left to die in photo voltaic orbit. Getzandanner says the crew is centered on the primary mission now, however he doesn’t rule out the potential for a mission extension. “Once OSIRIS-REx jettisons the capsule, we’ll have a pretty capable spacecraft that would certainly be capable of performing another mission,” says Getzandanner. “Once we get through touch-and-go, we can start thinking about extended missions and doing some more work on that.”
Once the asteroid samples are returned, scientists at NASA’s Johnson Space Center will catalog them and preserve the majority of the fabric, learning a few of it instantly and reserving a portion that might be despatched to an undisclosed safe location in New Mexico for safekeeping. They’ll divide the remainder of it up amongst analysis teams all over the world, together with companions on the Japanese and Canadian area companies, each of which contributed to the mission. Japan, which has efficiently launched two asteroid sample-return missions, shared information and strategies that helped form the OSIRIS-REx mission. Researchers in Canada contributed a laser altimeter that has been used to exactly measure how excessive the spacecraft is orbiting the asteroid and map its floor in element.