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NASA'S OSIRIS-REx executes slingshot around Earth
by Brooks Hays
Washington (UPI) Sep 22, 2017

Asteroid-bound spacecraft zips by Earth for gravity boost
Miami (AFP) Sept 22, 2017 - An unmanned NASA spacecraft traveling to a distant asteroid veered toward Earth on Friday for a gravitational slingshot maneuver that will better aim it toward the Sun-orbiting space rock, Bennu, the US space agency said.

The gravity-boost took place about halfway through the two-year journey of the spacecraft, known as OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security - Regolith Explorer).

"The preliminary results are in, and my #EarthGravityAssist was succesful!" said the NASA Twitter account for OSIRIS-REx, about an hour after it made its closest approach to Earth at 12:52 pm (1652 GMT).

The mission launched last year from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Its goal is to collect a sample from Bennu in 2018, and return it to Earth for further study in 2023.

Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson, described the gravity-assist as "a clever way to move the spacecraft onto Bennu's orbital plane using Earth's own gravity instead of expending fuel."

The spacecraft zipped over Antarctica at a distance of 11,000 miles (17,000 kilometers), using Earth's gravity to shift its trajectory so it can eventually meet up with Bennu.

Bennu is a primitive, carbon-rich asteroid, the kind of cosmic body that may have delivered life-giving materials to Earth billions of years ago.

The asteroid's orbit around the Sun is tilted six degrees in comparison to Earth's.

During the gravity assist, OSIRIS-REx swung through a region of space that contains Earth-orbiting satellites, but emerged intact.

OSIRIS-REx lost communications with Earth for about an hour during the flyby, as expected, because the spacecraft was too low relative to the southern horizon to be in view with either the Deep Space tracking station at Canberra, Australia, or Goldstone, California.

NASA's OSIRIS-REx probe has used Earth's gravity to slingshot itself into outer space. The spacecraft is now en route to the asteroid Bennu and is expected to encounter the space rock in August 2018.

On Friday, OSIRIS-REx swung past the South Pole at an altitude of 10,711 miles. During the flyby, Earth's gravity offered the probe's speed a boost of 8,451 mph.

OSIRIS-REx, short for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer, is NASA's asteroid encounter and sample collection mission.

Once OSIRIS-REx meets up with Bennu, the probe will circle the asteroid for nearly two years. In 2020, the probe will attempt to scoop up rock and dust samples from the surface of the asteroid. The spacecraft will begin its return journey to Earth in 2021 and is scheduled to touch down on September 24, 2023.

"The encounter with Earth is fundamental to our rendezvous with Bennu," Rich Burns, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a news release. "The total velocity change from Earth's gravity far exceeds the total fuel load of the OSIRIS-REx propulsion system, so we are really leveraging our Earth flyby to make a massive change to the OSIRIS-REx trajectory, specifically changing the tilt of the orbit to match Bennu."

Friday's flyby also offered OSIRIS-REx scientists a chance to test and calibrate the probe's instruments. For the next three weeks, the probe's instruments will survey Earth and the moon, allowing for further calibration.

"The opportunity to collect science data over the next two weeks provides the OSIRIS-REx mission team with an excellent opportunity to practice for operations at Bennu," said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson. "During the Earth flyby, the science and operations teams are co-located, performing daily activities together as they will during the asteroid encounter."

OSIRIS-REx launched in September 2016. Scientists hope the probe's rendezvous with and sampling of 101955 Bennu will offer insights into the nature of the early solar system.

The 1,614-foot-wide space rock belongs to a collection of near-Earth asteroids known as the Apollo group. NASA scientists chose 101955 Bennu for the OSIRIS-REx mission because of its unique supply of unadulterated carbonaceous material, one of the building blocks of life. Researchers believe asteroid collisions may have provided early Earth with the biochemicals necessary for life.

Nanosat Fleet Proposed for Voyage to 300 Asteroids
Riga, Latvia (SPX) Sep 22, 2017
A fleet of tiny spacecraft could visit over 300 asteroids in just over three years, according to a mission study led by the Finnish Meteorological Institute. The Asteroid Touring Nanosat Fleet concept comprises 50 spacecraft propelled by innovative electric solar wind sails (E-sails) and equipped with instruments to take images and collect spectroscopic data on the composition of the aster ... read more

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