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.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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