(ORDO NEWS) — NASA’s first asteroid spacecraft took another close flight near Bennu asteroid. Yesterday, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft completed its lowest pass over the Skop probe, conducting observations from a height of 250 meters. Osprey, the OSIRIS-REx reserve collection site, is located in a crater north of the Bennu equator.
To perform a five-hour flyby, the spacecraft left its 1 km orbit, which passes counterclockwise (when viewed from the Sun) and sent its scientific instruments to a platform 16 meters wide. Scientific observations from this distance are the closest at the moment. In March, the spacecraft performed a similar passage over the main sampling site, Nightingale.
The main goal of the low span was to take high resolution images of the surface of the object. The spacecraft’s sampling mechanism is designed to collect rocks less than 2 cm in size and detailed images from the PolyCam camera from yesterday’s low pass will allow the team to identify rocks of this size.
The flight path also provided an opportunity to obtain images for the Natural Feature Tracking (NFT) image catalog of the Osprey area – to document the surface features of the terrain. If the mission decides to collect samples from the Skop reserve site, the spacecraft will use this NFT image catalog to autonomously move down to the Bennu surface.
The mission originally planned to collect these images during a flight at an altitude of 620 meters in February, but the images were out of focus due to an anomaly in the low-energy laser transmitter (LELT) subsystem with the OSIRIS-REx (OLA) laser altimeter, which provided measurements of the distance to the asteroid to focus the PolyCam camera.
After completing the passage, OSIRIS-REx returned to its safe home orbit and now circles Bennu clockwise. The spacecraft usually rotates around Bennu counterclockwise, but this shift was necessary to position the spacecraft for its next approach to the asteroid – the second rehearsal of sample collection.
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