NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft today maneuvered into an orbit that takes it within 4,000 feet of the surface of Bennu, a diamond-shaped asteroid that’s 70 million miles from Earth.
The orbit sets a record for interplanetary travel. The quarter-mile-wide asteroid is now the smallest body ever orbited by a spacecraft, and the spacecraft is tracing the closest sustained orbit around a celestial body.
Bennu beat out Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the 2.5-mile-wide comet that the European Space Agency’s Rosetta probe circled from 2014 to 2016. OSIRIS-REx orbits about a mile from Bennu’s center, while Rosetta’s orbit was 4 miles out from the comet’s center.
Today’s crucial eight-second burn of OSIRIS-REx’s thrusters, built by Aerojet Rocketdyne in Redmond, Wash., was executed perfectly, said University of Arizona planetary scientist Dante Lauretta, who serves as the mission’s principal investigator.