Asteroid Mission Takes First Photo of Its Destination

Aug 17, 2018

An Arizona-led spacecraft mission is headed toward a carbon-rich asteroid called Bennu, and today it’s close enough to take the first photograph of its destination. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny reports.

Artist's concept of OSIRIS-REx

OSIRIS-REx launched two years ago and is now 1.2 million miles from Bennu. Michael Nolan leads the mission’s science team at the University of Arizona. He says today’s photograph won’t reveal anything new about the asteroid. It will appear as a dot smaller than a pixel.

"Most of it’s going to be making sure all our systems work, we’re going to test out some of the procedures we’re going to use later," says Nolan. "And of course we’re excited because we’ve been waiting to get there and this is the first time we’re really going to see where we’re going."

Nolan says Bennu holds clues to the solar system’s formation and the origin of life.

Today is the start of the mission’s “approach phase,” during which the spacecraft will gather data and run systems tests. OSIRIS-REx will reach Bennu in December and spend more than a year making observations. Then it will collect a sample of the asteroid and return to Earth.

The image of Bennu is being processed and will be published next week.