NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is closing in on the asteroid Bennu after more than two years of flight and is sending home some incredible travel photographs.
This week, “super resolution” images of the mission, led by the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, were released.
They showed images of Bennu snapped by OSIRIS-REx on Oct. 29 from 205 miles away — a little less than the distance between Los Angeles and Las Vegas — using the multi-functional PolyCam camera, one of three on-board cameras that were developed at the UA.
Eight images, snapped within a minute from first to last, were combined to produce the high-resolution, 100-pixel image that NASA released. The PolyCam was tasked with spotting the first glimpse of the asteroid. It has now provided the first peek of Bennu’s surface features, such as large boulders.
The camera will soon be used to check the asteroid for ideal sampling sites. It’s the first U.S. mission to collect a sample of an asteroid and return it to Earth for study.
OSIRIS-REx is short for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer. It launched in September 2016 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, for the seven-year mission to Bennu and back. The UA leads the science team and the mission’s science observation planning and data processing.
UA professor Dante Lauretta is the principal investigator of OSIRIS-REx.
The spacecraft is expected to arrive at Bennu in December and will spend more than a year studying the asteroid in preparation for taking a sample. The mission will help scientists investigate how planets formed and how life began, as well as improve the understanding of asteroids that could strike Earth.
Plans are for the spacecraft to collect about a 2-ounce sample from Bennu in July 2020 and then make its way home.
The Sample Return Capsule is expected to land in the Utah desert in September 2023.