NASA Spacecraft Provides Insight into Asteroid Bennu’s Future Orbit

This mosaic image of asteroid Bennu is composed of 12 PolyCam images collected on Dec. 2, 2018, by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft from a range of 15 miles (24 km). (Credits: NASA/University of Arizona)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — In a study released Wednesday, NASA researchers used precision-tracking data from the agency’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft to better understand movements of the potentially hazardous asteroid Bennu through the year 2300, significantly reducing uncertainties related to its future orbit, and improving scientists’ ability to determine the total impact probability and predict orbits of other asteroids.

The study, titled “Ephemeris and hazard assessment for near-Earth asteroid (101955) Bennu based on OSIRIS-REx data,” was published in the journal Icarus.

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Launch 2020: A Year of Transition for Japan

The United Arab Emirates’ Hope Probe took off at 2:58 p.m. PDT on July 19 from a launch site in Japan, headed for Mars to study its atmosphere. (Credit: MHI Launch Services via YouTube)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

It was a typical year for Japan with four successful launches and no failures. Japan has averaged 3.8 launches annually over the past decade. Last year also saw a Japanese astronaut become the first foreigner to fly aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft.

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NASA Selects University Teams to Develop Moon, Mars Mission Design Ideas

NASA, in partnership with the National Space Grant Foundation, has selected six university teams to develop innovative design ideas that will help NASA advance and execute its Moon to Mars exploration objectives. 

The selections are a part of the 2022 Moon to Mars eXploration Systems and Habitation (M2M X-Hab) Academic Innovation Challenge, sponsored by NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) division. The winning teams will be given monetary awards ranging from $15,000-$50,000 to assist them in designing and producing studies, research findings, or functional products that could advance capabilities and lower technology risks related to NASA’s Moon to Mars space exploration missions. 

This year’s winning M2M X-Hab Challenge teams will design, manufacture, assemble, test, and demonstrate functional prototype subsystems and innovations that enable increased functionality for human space exploration missions in the following areas: 

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Asteroid 16 Psyche Might Not Be What Scientists Expected

Artist rendition of the asteroid Psyche. (Credit: Peter Rubin/ASU)

New UArizona research finds that the target asteroid of NASA’s Psyche mission may not be as metallic or dense as previously predicted.

By Mikayla Mace Kelley
University of Arizona Communications

The widely studied metallic asteroid known as 16 Psyche was long thought to be the exposed iron core of a small planet that failed to form during the earliest days of the solar system. But new University of Arizona-led research suggests that the asteroid might not be as metallic or dense as once thought, and hints at a much different origin story.

Scientists are interested in 16 Psyche because if its presumed origins are true, it would provide an opportunity to study an exposed planetary core up close. NASA is scheduled to launch its Psyche mission in 2022 and arrive at the asteroid in 2026.

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Carbon Mapper Launches Satellite Program to Pinpoint Methane and Carbon Dioxide Super Emitters

Carbon Mapper

State of California, NASA JPL, and Planet team up with University of Arizona, ASU, RMI, High Tide Foundation and Bloomberg Philanthropies in unique coalition to fight climate change

SAN FRANCISCO, April 15, 2021 (Carbon Mapper PR) — Carbon Mapper, a new nonprofit organization, and its partners – the State of California, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (NASA JPL), Planet, the University of Arizona, Arizona State University (ASU), High Tide Foundation and RMI – today announced a pioneering program to help improve understanding of and accelerate reductions in global methane and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. In addition, the Carbon Mapper consortium announced its plan to deploy a ground-breaking hyperspectral satellite constellation with the ability to pinpoint, quantify and track point-source methane and CO2 emissions.

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NASA OSIRIS-REx’s Final Asteroid Observation Run

This artist’s concept shows the planned flight path of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft during its final flyby of asteroid Bennu, which is scheduled for April 7. (Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)

By Brittany Enos
University of Arizona

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission is on the brink of discovering the extent of the mess it made on asteroid Bennu’s surface during last fall’s sample collection event. On Apr. 7, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will get one last close encounter with Bennu as it performs a final flyover to capture images of the asteroid’s surface. While performing the flyover, the spacecraft will observe Bennu from a distance of about 2.3 miles (3.7 km) – the closest it’s been since the Touch-and-Go Sample Collection event on Oct. 20, 2020.

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Spectacular Image: Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Captures Perseverance Rover Descent to Surface

The descent stage holding NASA’s Perseverance rover can be seen falling through the Martian atmosphere. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — The descent stage holding NASA’s Perseverance rover can be seen falling through the Martian atmosphere, its parachute trailing behind, in this image taken on Feb. 18, 2021, by the High Resolution Imaging Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The ancient river delta, which is the target of the Perseverance mission, can be seen entering Jezero Crater from the left.

HiRISE was approximately 435 miles (700 kilometers) from Perseverance and traveling at about 6750 mile per hour (3 kilometers per second) at the time the image was taken.  The extreme distance and high speeds of the two spacecraft were challenging conditions that required precise timing and for Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to both pitch upward and roll hard to the left so that Perseverance was viewable by HiRISE at just the right moment.

The orbiter’s mission is led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. JPL, a division of Caltech, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver, built the spacecraft. The University of Arizona provided and operates HiRISE.

Tech Designed by University Students Could Shine Light on Extreme Lunar Environments

Michigan Technological University’s Tethered-permanently shadowed Region Explorer would extract and use the water ice located in and around the lunar polar regions through the use of super conducting cables to deliver large quantities of power to these extremely hard to access regions. (Credits: Michigan Technological University)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — “The dark side of the Moon” is sometimes used to describe mysterious things. Though the far side of the Moon isn’t actually dark, there are some areas on the Moon that haven’t seen the Sun in billions of years. Those are the unexplored areas university students aimed to help NASA reach.

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UArizona Scientists Will Test Mars Exploration Drones in Iceland with $3 Million NASA Grant

TUCSON, Ariz. — A team of scientists led by Christopher Hamilton of the University of Arizona is gearing up to send drones on exploration missions across a vast lava field in Iceland to test a next-generation Mars exploration concept.

Hamilton is the principal investigator on a project that has been awarded a $3.1 million NASA grant to develop a new concept combining rovers and unmanned aerial systems, commonly known as drones, to explore regions of the red planet that have been previously inaccessible. These new Rover–Aerial Vehicle Exploration Networks will be tested in Iceland to explore volcanic terrains similar to those observed on Mars.

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NASA Selects 4 Concepts for Small Missions to Study Universe’s Secrets

As neutron stars collide, some of the debris blasts away in particle jets moving at nearly the speed of light, producing a brief burst of gamma rays. (Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/CI Lab)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has chosen four small-scale astrophysics missions for further concept development in a new program called Pioneers. Through small satellites and scientific balloons, these selections enable new platforms for exploring cosmic phenomena such as galaxy evolution, exoplanets, high-energy neutrinos, and neutron star mergers.

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NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Successfully Stows Sample of Asteroid Bennu

The left image shows the OSIRIS-REx collector head hovering over the Sample Return Capsule (SRC) after the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism arm moved it into the proper position for capture. The right image shows the collector head secured onto the capture ring in the SRC. Both images were captured by the StowCam camera. (Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/Lockheed Martin)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission has successfully stowed the spacecraft’s Sample Return Capsule (SRC) and its abundant sample of asteroid Bennu. On Wednesday, Oct. 28, the mission team sent commands to the spacecraft, instructing it to close the capsule – marking the end of one of the most challenging phases of the mission.

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Amazing Video of OSIRIS-REx Collecting Samples on Asteroid Bennu

By Brittany Enos
University of Arizona

Captured on Oct. 20, 2020 during the OSIRIS-REx mission’s Touch-And-Go (TAG) sample collection event, this series of images shows the SamCam imager’s field of view as the NASA spacecraft approaches and touches down on asteroid Bennu’s surface, over 200 million miles (321 million km) away from Earth. The sampling event brought the spacecraft all the way down to sample site Nightingale, touching down within three feet (one meter) of the targeted location. The team on Earth received confirmation at 6:08 p.m. EDT that successful touchdown occurred. Preliminary data show the one-foot-wide (0.3-meter-wide) sampling head touched Bennu’s surface for approximately 6 seconds, after which the spacecraft performed a back-away burn.

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NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft Successfully Touches Asteroid

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission readies itself to touch the surface of asteroid Bennu. (Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft unfurled its robotic arm Tuesday, and in a first for the agency, briefly touched an asteroid to collect dust and pebbles from the surface for delivery to Earth in 2023.

This well-preserved, ancient asteroid, known as Bennu, is currently more than 200 million miles (321 million kilometers) from Earth. Bennu offers scientists a window into the early solar system as it was first taking shape billions of years ago and flinging ingredients that could have helped seed life on Earth. If Tuesday’s sample collection event, known as “Touch-And-Go” (TAG), provided enough of a sample, mission teams will command the spacecraft to begin stowing the precious primordial cargo to begin its journey back to Earth in March 2021. Otherwise, they will prepare for another attempt in January.

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Ten Things to Know About Bennu

The Nightingale Crater on asteroid Bennu is the primary sample collection site for NASA’s OSIRIS-REx’s mission. The image is overlaid with a graphic of the spacecraft to illustrate the scale of the site. (Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — NASA’s first mission to return a sample from an ancient asteroid arrived at its target, the asteroid Bennu, on Dec. 3, 2018. This mission, the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-REx, is a seven-year long voyage set to conclude upon the delivery to Earth of at least 2.1 ounces (60 grams) and possibly up to almost four and a half pounds (two kilograms) of sample.

It promises to be the largest amount of extraterrestrial material brought back from space since the Apollo era. The 20-year anniversary of the asteroid’s discovery was in September 2019 — and scientists have been collecting data ever since. Here’s what we already know (and some of what we hope to find out) about this pristine remnant from the early days of our solar system.

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NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Unlocks More Secrets from Asteroid Bennu

by Brittany Enos
University of Arizona

NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission now knows much more about the material it’ll be collecting in just a few weeks. In a special collection of six papers published today in the journals Science and  Science Advances, scientists on the OSIRIS-REx mission present new findings on asteroid Bennu’s surface material, geological characteristics, and dynamic history. They also suspect that the delivered sample of Bennu may be unlike anything we have in the meteorite collection on Earth.

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