In early December, the OSIRIS-Rex of NASA arrived at asteroid Bennu. A dedicated team rapidly started measuring and mapping out the celestial body. The asteroid has a small gravity pull and they need to get entire information in order to enter the orbit of Bennu. It seems that the scientists were able to get what they needed due to OSIRIS-Rex has successfully started circling the asteroid at 2:43 PM ET on December 31st.
This move has set a new space exploration record for the smallest celestial body. Bennu is 1,640-foot wide orbited by a spacecraft. That record was previously held by asteroid Ryugu, orbited by Japan’s Hayabusa 2 probe. Moreover, OSIRIS-Rex now holds the record for the closest orbit, seeing as it’s now flying above the asteroid at around a mile from its surface.
The team of OSIRIS-Rex will now explore for a site devoid of boulders and rocks where the probe can scoop up samples as it circles the asteroid. The spacecraft will grab dirt and gravel from its surface by the mid-2020 and it will bring back to Earth by 2023. NASA is hopeful that the samples would provide a significant amount of help for scientists to learn more regarding the evolution of our solar system and the origin of life on Earth.
The OSIRIS-Rex Maneuver and Trajectory Design Lead Dan Wibben explained that entering Bennu’s orbit is a massive achievement for the mission. Wibben issued a statement:
“The gravity of Bennu is so small, forces like solar radiation and thermal pressure from Bennu’s surface become much more relevant and can push the spacecraft around in its orbit much more than if it were orbiting around Earth or Mars, where gravity is by far the most dominant force”.