Arizona-Led Asteroid Mission Swings Around Earth

Sep 21, 2017

A spacecraft guided by Arizona scientists will swing around Earth tomorrow, changing its trajectory to put it on course to study an asteroid next year. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny reports.

Artist concept of OSIRIS-REx passing by Earth
Credit NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/University of Arizona

The OSIRIS-Rex mission launched a year ago. It will slingshot around Earth in a maneuver called a ‘gravity assist.’ The spacecraft will skim over Antarctica at a speed of 19,000 miles per hour.

The mission team has gathered in Tucson for the occasion. They’ll direct the spacecraft to take photographs and make observations of the Earth and Moon, to calibrate the scientific instruments.

The next stop is a carbon-rich, near-Earth asteroid called Bennu. Scientists want to study it to learn more about the history of the solar system, the origins of life, and how to protect Earth from asteroid impacts. OSIRIS-REx will collect a sample of Bennu and return to Earth in 2023.

The mission is led by the University of Arizona.