Engineers pull off daring rescue of OSIRIS-REx asteroid mission

phys.org | 2/17/2019 | Staff
lhumaralhumara (Posted by) Level 3





On Friday, Oct. 11, the OSIRIS-REx team should have been preparing to point their spacecraft cameras precisely over the asteroid Bennu to capture high-resolution images of a region known as Osprey. It is one of four sites scientists are considering from which the spacecraft can safely collect a sample in late 2020.

But early that morning, the team learned that a telecommunications facility near Madrid had suffered an unexpected network outage. Part of NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN) of global spacecraft communications facilities, the Spanish complex is home to giant radio antennas. One of these was scheduled to ping OSIRIS-REx for a critical data download.

Data - Download - Marathon - Process - Update

The data download would have kicked off a 24-hour marathon process known as a "late update" to predict the spacecraft's trajectory in time for a flyover of Osprey. Among the litany of complex tasks the navigation team needed to do that day was to download images of Bennu. The team uses these images to identify landmarks on the asteroid in order to update the spacecraft's position and velocity.

But the DSN outage threatened to throw the mission off track.

OSIRIS-REx - Team - Osprey - Sites - Bennu

The OSIRIS-REx team identified Osprey as one of the most promising sites on Bennu's rugged surface, based on its relatively smooth terrain and lack of large, potentially hazardous boulders. Osprey is set inside an approximately 66-foot- (20-meter-) wide crater near Bennu's equator.

On Oct. 12, engineers were planning to collect critical images of the surface in order to assess Osprey's population of rocks that might be small enough to be ingested into OSIRIS-REx's sample collection head when the spacecraft ultimately touches Bennu next year. This assessment was the key piece of information the team needed to choose the top sample collection site from the final four.

Osprey - Second - Sites - Reconnaissance

The Osprey flyover was the second of the four sites to be surveyed during the reconnaissance...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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