NASA's asteroid-chasing OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security – Regolith Explorer) spacecraft used Earth's gravity to slingshot itself towards asteroid Bennu this Friday, September 22, 2017.
Here's all you need to know about OSIRIS-REx spacecraft's mission:
1. NASA is looking to explore a small, round asteroid called Bennu with the help of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, which was launched a year back. The spacecraft aims at collecting a sample of Bennu and return it to Earth.
2. On Friday afternoon, the spacecraft passed within 17,237 kilometres (10,711 miles) above Antarctica at a pace of 31,000 kmph (19,000 mph). NASA researchers made sure that this SUV-sized spacecraft didn't crash into any satellite.
3. The craft used Earth's gravity as a slingshot to get on a path towards the asteroid. OSIRIS-REx had to match the orbital tilt of the asteroid. If everything goes right, the OSIRIS-Rex will get the asteroid samples by 2023.
4. The spacecraft was observed by ground telescopes while it was passing close by Earth. NASA said the science instruments of OSIRIS-Rex would be turned on four hours after the closest approach for next two weeks and it would scan Earth and Moon.
5. Asteroid Bennu is around 500 metres across and its orbit around the Sun is a bit wider than that of Earth. The spacecraft will orbit around Bennu and try finding the best spot for collecting a few small samples of the space rock with the help of its nitrogen gas thrusters.
6. Findings from this asteroid could reveal details about the origin of life. The ancient asteroid is estimated to have formed 4.5 billion years ago and is a residue of the building blocks of the Solar System.
7. This is a pioneering mission which the US is carrying out to collect samples from an asteroid and get them back to Earth. Japan was the first country which got samples of an asteroid to Earth.