Asteroid-bound spacecraft zips by Earth for gravity boost

A Nasa spacecraft is about to do a near miss of Earth

A Nasa spacecraft is about to do a near miss of Earth

If successful, the mission will mark the first time the USA has ever brought samples from an asteroid back to Earth, and the second time any dust has been returned from an asteroid. Bennu also revolves around the sun, but its orbit is slightly tilted compared to Earth's, so it only crosses our path at two points during the year. The gravity assist will change OSIRIS-REx's trajectory to put the spacecraft on a course to match the asteroid's path and speed.

As a result of the flyby, NASA said the velocity change to the spacecraft was 8,451 miles per hour (3.778 kilometers per second).

The spacecraft will come closer to Earth and skywatchers will have one last opportunity to take photographs of the probe. OSIRIS-REx is scheduled to fly along side Bennu in 2018, collect surface material from the asteroid and carrying the first sample collected by the US back to Earth for a 2023 arrival.

Returned samples "are the gift that keeps giving", Jim Garvin, chief scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said during today's Facebook Live event.

"Members of the public without telescopes can still celebrate the Earth Gravity Assist by joining the "Wave to OSIRIS-REx" social media campaign", the organisation adds.

Telescopes and astronomers on Earth were already straining to see the car-size craft as it approached from millions of miles away earlier this month. The spacecraft will make its closest approach over Antartica near Cape Horn, Chile, 12:52 p.m. eastern time, according to News18.

During the gravity assist, OSIRIS-REx will pass through a region of space that is inhabited by Earth-orbiting satellites, and NASA has taken precautions to ensure the safety of the spacecraft as it flies through this area.

Science collected during the mission will help teach us how to deflect an asteroid from Earth when it becomes necessary, said Humberto Campins, a University of Central Florida physics and astronomy professor and a member of OSIRIS-REx's science team. In order for OSIRIS-REx to successfully move into Bennu's orbital plane, it's imperative that the EGA be successful so that it can adjust its trajectory by 6 degrees, putting it on an intercept trajectory with Bennu. Lauretta said it would be good practice for operations at Bennu. Then beginning in October 2018, a series of asteroid approach maneuvers will be executed to slow the spacecraft with respect to the asteroid. "At roughly 500 meters in diameter, Bennu will be the smallest object that NASA has orbited".

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