NASA’s spacecraft is orbiting closer to an asteroid than ever before

NASA has managed out how to circle more like a planetary body than any spacecraft has ever come before.

After a maneuver, the spacecraft in NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission has reached a new level of proximity to the asteroid Bennu, the space agency said.

The mission as of late entered another phase where the spacecraft will orbit around 68 meters over the asteroid Bennu’s surface.

During this phase, known as Orbital B, the spacecraft will snap images of the asteroid’s horizon and map the object to determine where the best sample collection site on Bennu’s surface is, NASA said in a statement it released last Thursday (local time).

It will remain this near the space rock until the second seven day stretch of August.

The spacecraft broke its past record, which was set around 4,224 feet, or 128 meters, far from Bennu.

The end goal

OSIRIS-REx, which represents Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, is NASA’s first space rock test return mission.

On the seven-year mission, the spacecraft, which was launched in September 2016, will study and map Bennu, navigate in close proximity to the asteroid and ultimately touch the surface for five seconds to retrieve a sample, the mission’s website says.

“This sample of a primitive asteroid will help scientists understand the formation of the Solar System over 4.5 billion years ago,” NASA said.

Bennu is a close Earth space rock that could pass our planet closer than the moon in 2135, with much closer approaches possible in 2175 and 2195.

Despite the fact that the possibility of Bennu straightforwardly striking Earth is improbable, the data from OSIRIS-REx can enable researchers to see how to redirect close Earth space rocks.

Already, scientists have encountered unexpected observations. They have detected particle plumes ejecting off of the surface. This discovery means Bennu is a rare, active asteroid that regularly ejects material into space.

The spacecraft is expected to return to Earth in September 2023.