NASA's asteroid chaser to swing by Earth

This illustration provided by NASA depicts the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft at the asteroid Bennu. The rocky remnant from the dawn of the solar system may hold clues to the origins of life. On Friday Sept. 22 2017 the probe will use Earth's gravity to put

After Earth's nudge, OSIRIS-REx has a straight shot to its target, the asteroid Bennu, which is nearly 4.5 billion years old and just a little longer than the Empire State Building.

"In order to get to the asteroid we had to fly around the sun for a whole year, come back to the Earth, which is happening [Friday] and we're going to use the gravity field of the Earth to slingshot us up on to the same orbital plane as the asteroid", Lauretta said. NASA has taken precautions to ensure Osiris-Rex does not slam into any satellites. After traveling nearly 600 million miles so, the spacecraft will fly over Australia on Friday before reaching its closest point to Earth over Antarctica, just south of Cape Horn, Chile. From there it starts heading up and out of our neighborhood over the Pacific Ocean, Asia and northern Africa. The spacecraft will also steal a little bit of Earth's momentum-boosting its speed by 8,500 miles per hour.

They'll direct the spacecraft to take photographs and make observations of the Earth and Moon, to calibrate the scientific instruments. It completes an orbit around the Sun every 436.604 days (1.2 years) and every 6 years comes within 0.002 AU of Earth (1 AU = the distance between Earth and the Sun, or ~93 million miles).

All of the science operations for OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security - Regolith Explorer), occur on the school's Tucson campus.

This illustration provided by NASA depicts the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft and the Earth. On Friday Sept. 22 2017 the probe will use Earth's gravity to put it on a path toward the asteroid Bennu

Images from the flyby will be released Tuesday, officials said. "We have checked out all of the spacecraft subsystems, and everything is woking as expected". OSIRIS-REx will collect a sample of Bennu and return to Earth in 2023.

Next up for the mission will be a series of course correction burns over the next year to set up for the final approach to Bennu. "That's when we'll actually do a close approach over the north pole of the asteroid with an imaging campaign, and then do a couple of maneuvers and repeat that sequence multiple times". The mission is the first asteroid sample return attempt mounted by NASA, and the second worldwide after Japan's Hayabusa mission brought back microscopic specimens from asteroid Itokawa in 2010. It will hover like a hummingbird as a mechanical arm briefly rests on the surface and sucks in samples stirred up by nitrogen gas thrusters. Scientists believe Bennu may have seeded the Earth with organic compounds that made life possible.

"Asteroid mining is a field that's really rapidly gaining credibility", he said.

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