NASA gives green light for OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to visit another asteroid

The extended mission, dubbed OSIRIS-APEX, will study the near-Earth asteroid Apophis, which will have a close encounter with Earth in 2029.
This is an artists illustration of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft firing thrusters near the surface of the asteroid Apophis.Heather Roper

NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will swing by Earth to deliver a sample from asteroid Bennu on Sept. 24, 2023. But it won't clock out after that.

NASA has extended the University of Arizona-led mission, which will be renamed OSIRIS-APEX, to study near-Earth asteroid Apophis for 18 months. Apophis will make a close approach to Earth in 2029.

Illustration of asteroid
Imaging scientists Dathon Golish created this simulated image of the view of near-Earth asteroid Apophis in the APEX camera, based on a shape model produced by JPL's Marina Brozović and her colleagues.UArizona/JPL/Arecibo

The University of Arizona will lead the mission, which will make its first maneuver toward Apophis 30 days after the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft delivers the sample it collected from Bennu back in October 2020. At that point, the original mission team will split – the sample analysis team will analyze the Bennu sample, while the spacecraft and instrument team transitions to OSIRIS-APEX, which is short for OSIRIS-Apophis Explorer.

Regents Professor of Planetary Sciences Dante Lauretta will remain principal investigator of OSIRIS-REx through the remaining two-year sample return phase of the mission. Planetary sciences assistant professor and OSIRIS-REx deputy principal investigator Dani DellaGiustina will then become principal investigator of OSIRIS-APEX. The extension adds another $200 million to the mission cost cap.

The mission team did an exhaustive search for potential asteroid targets. The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft was built for what's called a rendezvous mission, meaning instead of making a single flyby of an object and quickly snapping images and collecting data, it was designed to "get up close and personal with the object." DellaGiustina said. "Our spacecraft is really phenomenal at that."

"Apophis is one of the most infamous asteroids," DellaGiustina said. "When it was first discovered in 2004, there was concern that it would impact the Earth in 2029 during its close approach. That risk was retired after subsequent observations, but it will be the closest an asteroid of this size has gotten in the 50 or so years asteroids have been closely tracked, or for the next 100 years of asteroids we have discovered so far. It gets within one-tenth the distance between the Earth and moon during the 2029 encounter. People in Europe and Africa will be able to see it with the naked eye, that's how close it will get. We were stoked to find out the mission was extended."

OSIRIS-REx was launched in 2016 to collect a sample from Bennu that will help scientists learn about the formation of the solar system and Earth as a habitable planet. OSIRIS-REx is the first NASA mission to collect and return a sample from a near-Earth asteroid.

OSIRIS-APEX will not collect a sample, but when it reaches Apophis, it will study the asteroid for 18 months and collect data along the way. It also will make a maneuver similar to the one it made during sample collection at Bennu, by approaching the surface and firing its thrusters. This event will expose the asteroid's subsurface, to allow mission scientists to learn more about the asteroid's material properties.

The scientists also want to study how the asteroid will be physically affected by the gravitational pull of Earth as it makes its close approach in 2029.

They also want to learn more about the composition of the asteroid. Apophis is about the same size as Bennu – nearly 1000 feet at its longest point – but it differs in what's called its spectral type. Bennu is a B-type asteroid linked to carbonaceous chondrite meteorites, whereas Apophis is an S-type asteroid linked to ordinary chondrite meteorites.

"The OSIRIS-REx mission has already achieved so many firsts and I am proud it will continue to teach us about the origins of our solar system," said University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins. "The OSIRIS-APEX mission extension keeps the University of Arizona in the lead as one of the premier institutions in the world to study small bodies with spacecraft and demonstrates again our incredible capacity in space sciences."

DellaGiustina is also excited that the mission provides an excellent opportunity for early career scientists to gain professional development. OSIRIS-REx veterans will work closely with these early career scientists as mentors in the early mission phases. By the time the spacecraft arrives at Apophis, the next generation will step into leadership roles on OSIRIS-APEX.

"OSIRIS-APEX is a manifestation of a core objective of our mission to enable the next generation of leadership in space exploration. I couldn't be prouder of Dani and the APEX team," Lauretta said. "Dani first started working with us in 2005 as an undergraduate student. To see her take on the leadership of the mission to asteroid Apophis demonstrates the outstanding educational opportunities at the University of Arizona."

Quelle: University of Arizona


Update: 28.04.2022



Once the primary mission of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx is complete, the spacecraft will head toward a new destination: near-Earth asteroid Apophis.


Once an asset is in space and functioning, it only makes sense to repurpose it and obtain the most science bang for the buck. In that vein, NASA announced yesterday that it will grant extensions for eight missions currently underway. While most missions were extended three years, one was extended for nine: The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (Osiris-REX) spacecraft, which just visited and sampled the asteroid 101955 Bennu and is due to drop off samples at Earth late this year, will continue onward toward another target of opportunity: the potentially hazardous asteroid 99942 Apophis.

The extension will see the mission re-designated as Osiris-APEX (Apophis Explorer). It will encounter Apophis in 2029, shortly before the asteroid's closest Earth approach, and spend the next 18 months exploring the worldlet.

“We were stoked to find out the mission was extended,” says Daniella DellaGiustina (University of Arizona), who was named principal investigator of the extended mission. The spacecraft is uniquely designed for the sort of close rendezvous and imaging that's required. “Our spacecraft is really phenomenal at that,” she adds.

"Osiris-APEX will detect Apophis about three weeks before the asteroid's close encounter with Earth, giving us time to monitor its rotation rate before and after the close encounter," says DellaGiustina. "After that the spacecraft will spend 18 months surveying the asteroid, including going into a close orbit around this small object."

Launched on September 8, 2016, atop an Atlas-V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Osiris-REX reached Bennu in December 2018, and collected samples from the asteroid in October 2020. Now headed back to Earth aboard Osiris, the sample capsule will reenter Earth’s atmosphere on September 24, 2023, over the Air Force’s Utah Test and Training Range.

Research operations at the University of Arizona will split once the sample return capsule departs the main spacecraft, with the Osiris-REX team completing recovery and analysis of the sample, and the Osiris-APEX team managing the continuation toward Apophis. The mission extension adds an additional $200 million to the budget.

TAGSAM stows sample
These photos show the Osiris-REX's Touch and Go sample Acquisition Mechanism stowing the sample of asteroid Bennu for later return to Earth.
NASA Goddard / University of Arizona / Lockheed Martin

Other NASA missions granted extensions include New Horizons and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, as well as five Martian missions: MAVEN, Mars Odyssey, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the Curiosity rover, and the InSight lander.


OSIRIS-REX isn't the only mission heading to a second target. The Japanese Hayabusa 2 mission will head to the asteroids 2001 AV43 in 2029 and 1998 KY26 in 2031, respectively, and China’s Chang’e 5 orbiter headed to a new orbit after grabbing samples from the Moon. It will perform solar observations and possibly search for asteroids at the Sun-Earth Lagrange points.


The orbit of asteroid Apophis crosses that of Earth.

Apophis is a potentially hazardous asteroid, labeled such because its orbit crosses that of Earth. Its discovery back in 2004 caused quite a stir when researchers calculated a small chance it would impact the Earth on April 13, 2029. Later observations refined the orbit and ruled out that possibility, but Apophis will still miss us by just 19,600 miles in 2029, 10 times closer than the Moon and inside geostationary orbit. The 700-meter (1,200-foot) rock will be visible as a 3rd-magnitude moving “star” from Europe, Africa, and western Asia.

Osiris-APEX’s close-up look will tell us if Apophis is a loose rubble-pile like Bennu, or something more substantial. Apophis is known from spectral analysis to be an S-type chondrite, versus the B-type carbonaceous chondrite Bennu, so it should provide some contrast for study. Scientists also plan to use the spacecraft’s gas thrusters to attempt to dislodge and study the dust and small rocks on and below Apophis’s surface.

"Apophis' bulk structure and surface strength have important implications for planetary defense," says DellaGiustina. "As a 'stony' S-type asteroid, Apophis represents the most common class of potentially hazardous asteroids and knowledge of its properties can inform planetary defense mitigation strategies."

Simulated view of Apophis
A simulated view of Apophis based on NASA/JPL models
University of Arizona / JPL / Arecibo

These future plans were announced right after the release of the Planetary Science Decadal Survey last week, which specifically mentioned the possibility of exploring Apophis. We’re truly entering in the age of asteroid exploration now, as we are for the first time getting multiple close-up views of these tiny worlds.

Quelle: Sky&Telescope
Raumfahrt+Astronomie-Blog von CENAP 0