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OSIRIS-REx enters close orbit around asteroid

OSIRIS-REx orbital path
An artist’s conception shows the OSIRIS-REx probe circling in to enter a close-in orbit around asteroid Bennu. (Univ. of Arizona / NASA Graphic)

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.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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