NASA’s spacecraft will rendezvous with rare asteroid coming close to Earth
By Emilee Speck
On its way back to Earth with a hefty sample of asteroid Bennu, the team behind NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission has big plans for the space rock-chasing spacecraft.
After the spacecraft drops off the sample next year, it will begin a new mission to study near-Earth asteroid Apophis, earning a new acronym OSIRIS-APEX.
NASA recently approved $200 million to cover the extended mission, which was welcome news to the University of Arizona-led team.
With a new mission, a new scientist will be in charge.
University of Arizona planetary science professor Daniella DellaGiustina will become the principal investigator under the APEX mission, but she is not new to the spacecraft. She currently serves as deputy principal investigator on the OSIRIS-REx mission and has been part of the program since she was an undergraduate student in 2005 before NASA selected it.
Instead of traveling through the solar system and collecting a sample as the spacecraft did in 2020, this time, OSIRIS-APEX gets to wait for its subject a little closer to home. Asteroid Apophis is set to make a close flyby of Earth in 2029, close enough that we can see it with the naked eye.
“It’s a really captivating object because, at one point in the early 2000s, there was a big scare after it was discovered that it might impact the Earth in 2029 during this encounter,” DellaGiustina said. “It gets within a 10th of the distance between the Earth and the moon, and something like that only happens about once every 7,500 years.”
However, there is no reason for concern. Apophis is not going to hit Earth.
Captured on Oct. 20 during the OSIRIS-REx mission’s Touch-And-Go (TAG) sample collection event, this series of 2 images shows the SamCam imager’s field of view at the moment before and after the NASA spacecraft touched down on asteroid Bennu’s surface. The sampling event brought the spacecraft all the way down to sample site Nightingale, and the team on Earth received confirmation of successful touchdown at 6:08 pm EDT. (Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)
Captured on Oct. 20 during the OSIRIS-REx mission’s Touch-And-Go (TAG) sample collection event, this series of 2 images shows the SamCam imager’s field of view at the moment before and after the NASA spacecraft touched down on asteroid Bennu’s surface. (Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)
DellaGiustina explained the team learned during the Bennu sample collection that the spacecraft thrusters moved rocks and dirt around, helping them know about the asteroid’s surface properties. They will do that on purpose with Apophis instead of a sample collection.
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