TUCSON (KVOA) – NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft completed its final flyover of the asteroid named Bennu at around 3 a.m. Wednesday.
As the University of Arizona leads the science team and the mission’s science observation planning and data processing team, they will wait a few days to discover how the spacecraft changed the surface of Bennu after it took a sample of the asteroid.
UArizona reported that it will take until April 13 at the earliest for the team to downlink all the data and new photos from Bennu’s surface recorded during the flyby. The downlink is also shared with other missions like the Mars Perseverance, where it usually gets anywhere from four to six hours of downlink each day.
"By surveying the distribution of the excavated material around the TAG site, we will learn more about the nature of the surface and subsurface materials along with the mechanical properties of the asteroid," said Dante Lauretta, mission principal investigator and UArizona planetary sciences professor.
When the mission team has the data and images from the recording, the team will study how OSIRIS-REx alternated Bennu’s surface. The spacecraft’s sampling head sunk 1.6 feet into the asteroid’s surface and fired a forced charge of nitrogen gas; it then kicked up surface material during the back-away burn that launched rocks and dust in the process.
Throughout the flyby, OSIRIS-REx took images of Bennu for a total of 5.9 hours, it covered more than a full rotation of the asteroid and flew within 2.1 miles of its surface.
“We collected about 4,000 megabytes of data during the flyby,” said Mike Moreau, deputy project manager of OSIRIS-REx at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
NASA OSIRIS-REx is the first U.S. mission to successfully collect a sample from an asteroid, according to NASA’s official website. The spacecraft is currently drifting from the asteroid.
OSIRIS-REx will remain in Bennu’s vicinity until May 10. It will then begin firing its thrusters and start its two-year journey home.
It is scheduled to return to Earth with the asteroid sample on Sept. 24, 2023.
NASA invites people to watch OSIRIS-REx depart from Bennu on May 10, at 1 p.m. on NASA TV or on nasa.gov.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was written by News 4 Tucson's Averie Klonowski.