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OSIRIS-REx Begins Proximity Operations At Bennu

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The mapping of the near-Earth asteroid Bennu is likely one of the science targets of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission, and an integral a part of spacecraft operations. The spacecraft will spend greater than a 12 months surveying Bennu earlier than gathering a pattern that might be returned to Earth for evaluation. Picture Credit score: NASA/Goddard/College of Arizona

December three, 2018 – OSIRIS-REx has arrived at asteroid Bennu. On December three, the spacecraft accomplished its two-year, multimillion-mile cruise section to return inside 12 miles (20 km) of Bennu. The arrival marks the beginning of proximity operations, the up-close science section of the mission.

Now that OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Useful resource Identification, and Safety-Regolith Explorer) is on the asteroid, it should start the official preliminary survey section on December 31. That survey is a part of a sequence of duties that may put together OSIRIS-REx to do one thing no different U.S. spacecraft has accomplished: acquire and return a pristine asteroid regolith (soil) pattern to Earth.

OSIRIS-REx’s proximity operations (prox-ops) can even take the Lockheed Martin crew “flying” the spacecraft into new territory. Nobody has ever operated a spacecraft so near a small celestial physique and in a microgravity atmosphere.

“The dangers of being that near an asteroid are driving the principle challenges on this mission,” stated Olivia Billett, Science Part Lead for the OSIRIS-REx mission. “In January, we are going to get into the smallest orbit that any mission has ever been in, and we are going to get even nearer subsequent summer time. Essentially, our crew all the time runs the chance of a mission-ending affect due to how shut we’re working the spacecraft to Bennu.”

Staying Protected

To maintain OSIRIS-REx secure throughout prox-ops, Lockheed Martin House engineers designed and constructed OSIRIS-REx with an onboard system not normally wanted for spacecraft working in bigger orbits. The techniques can warn the spacecraft of hazard forward and immediate it to take autonomous corrective actions by means of back-away burns.

“It’s skilled in order that it is aware of the right way to get away from the asteroid,” stated Mark Fisher, the Spacecraft Engineer who leads OSIRIS-REx’s engineering.

The spacecraft can even carry out the identical evasive maneuvers if it loses floor contact with the spacecraft operations crew in Lockheed Martin House’s Mission Assist Space for too lengthy.

“If it’s simply sitting there and it says, ‘Hey, it’s been too many days and I haven’t heard. I’m going to imagine the worst and I’m going to get away from the asteroid,’” Fisher stated.

As well as, as a result of Bennu is so small — simply 1,612 ft (492 meters) in diameter, concerning the dimension of the Empire State Constructing — the gravitational forces spacecraft would possibly encounter round a a lot bigger planet don’t exist.

“The non-gravitational forces are way more of a think about our navigation than they usually are,” Billett stated. “It’s a really completely different paradigm.”

As an example, transferring just a few hundred meters has a minimal impact on a planetary orbiter, however for an asteroid orbiter it signifies that the solar’s angles on the spacecraft can change considerably and have an effect on energy and thermal profiles in the end adjusting the orbit of OSIRIS-REx.

A picture of Bennu taken by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. Picture Credit score: NASA/Goddard/College of Arizona

Fixed Maneuvers

These dynamic modifications require fixed administration by the bottom crew. “To fly the trajectory that we’re going to fly over the following two years, we have now to do maneuvers a couple of times every week all through your complete mission as a result of our orbit can degrade so rapidly,” Billett stated. “We’re in impact frequently flying the spacecraft alongside its path to verify it’s going the place we have to map your complete asteroid and meet our science goals.”

For the remainder of the science mission following the December three arrival, the Lockheed Martin crew will transfer between surveys and orbit. The orbits and surveys will collect knowledge and pictures wanted to map Bennu’s floor options and perceive its spectral, thermal and geologic properties. Scientists will use that info to reach at a dozen potential pattern websites. Then, after a number of reconnaissance flyovers that may carry OSIRIS-REx as shut as 200 meters (650 ft) from Bennu’s floor, they are going to select the ultimate web site.

“The phases construct on one another,” Billett stated. “It’s not only a query of developing, taking a bunch of images on the web site and diving in as a result of the acquisition of the pattern needs to be exact.”

Future Payoffs

The challenges are definitely worth the effort—for OSIRIS-REx and future missions. “It’s trailblazing — from the pattern acquisition to the design of the mission,” Fisher stated.

“We’re seeing our planning bear out,” Billett stated. “All of that may feed ahead into any future missions that need to go to an asteroid. We’re studying what the dangers are, the areas of vulnerability and energy, and about establishing proximity operations as a paradigm.”

A Mission Of Firsts

The seven-year mission of the Lockheed Martin-built OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is filled with firsts. Will probably be the primary NASA explorer to hold asteroid regolith (soil) samples again to Earth and the primary alternative for scientists to review a pristine asteroid pattern that would present clues to the origins of life.

The mechanism that may acquire that pattern is unprecedented as properly. TAGSAM, or Contact-And-Go Pattern Acquisition Mechanism, is a Lockheed Martin invention. As a substitute of touchdown on tiny Bennu, OSIRIS-REx will depend on TAGSAM’s arm to achieve out and contact Bennu’s floor and collect regolith into its sampler head.


The duties symbolize lots of work for the crew.

“Usually with an orbiter we do orbit insertion simply as soon as, after which as soon as in orbit, we do trim maneuvers not more than as soon as a month,” Billett stated. “Some missions are steady sufficient for yearly. With OSIRIS-REx, it’s a a lot, a lot quicker cadence than most missions have needed to take care of.”

The crew might be sending as much as 50 command packages every week, which interprets to roughly 30,000 instructions executing on board the spacecraft each week. These instructions must be designed and applied on a fast-turnaround schedule.

“Usually if you find yourself constructing a maneuver it takes about three weeks to undergo a design, work with a navigation crew, take a look at it, assessment it,” Billett stated. “We’re taking that and compressing it down to some hours.”

The crew spent months getting ready for prox-ops. “One side was coaching the proper folks and the opposite was offering them with the proper instruments,” Fisher stated. “We went by means of our whole toolset that we might usually use for a planetary mission (to find out) the place is that this not going to satisfy our necessities, the place is that this not going to be not quick sufficient? We got here up with a brand new set of instruments and new methods of utilizing our (present) instruments to make this cadence occur.”

Then the crew examined these instruments—and themselves. “We did a number of elaborate checks actually pretending that we’re on the asteroid,” Fisher stated. “We did wall clock simulations with your complete crew, passing recordsdata backwards and forwards, getting knowledge down, having to react to that knowledge.”

They even simulated the time of 12 months — all the way down to celebrating Thanksgiving in Could.

“We had the honey-baked ham and the mustard and the inexperienced beans,” Fisher stated. “That was a sign to ourselves that we’re very critical about this.”

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