On December 31, 2018, at 2:43 p.m. EST, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft carried out a single, eight-second burn of its thrusters and entered into orbit around the asteroid Bennu, becoming the smallest object ever to be orbited by a spacecraft.
The very small asteroid Bennuhas a mean diameter of approximately 1,614 feet and is 70 million miles away from Earth. It is named after an ancient Egyptian mythological bird associated with the sun and rebirth.
OSIRIS-REx was launched on 8 September 2016, and reached the proximity of Bennu on 3 December 2018, where it began analyzing its surface for a target sample area over the next several months. It is expected to return with its sample to Earth on 24 September 2023.
OSIRIS-REx will circle Bennu about a mile from its center, closer than any other spacecraft has come to its celestial object of study.
Inching around the asteroid at a snail’s pace, OSIRIS-REx’s first orbit marks a leap for humankind. Never before has a spacecraft from Earth circled so close to such a small space object, especially one with barely enough gravity to keep a vehicle in a stable orbit.
Rod is a blogger, writer, filmmaker, photographer, daydreamer who likes to cook. Rod produces and directs the web series, CUPIC: Diary of an Investigator. He is also the editor, producer and administrator of TNC Network.