The laser technology carried by NASA‘s OSIRIS-REx probe has managed to map the Bennu asteroid as it travels through space. The mapping is one step closer to the completion of the preparation process for a future landing on the space rock.
Accurate Imagery Was Used to Map the Asteroid
OSIRIS-REx took off on September 8th, 2016, and traveled for more than two years to examine the asteroid, which is less than 50 meters in diameter and is traveling at more than 100,000 k/h. The space rock’s interplanetary orbit has it pass by Earth every 437 days.
“There’s instruments on the spacecraft that can take pictures of it to know what it looks like and to measure what it’s made of,” says Dr. Tim Haltigin, Canada’s OSIRIS-REx mission manager at the Canadian Space Agency.
“And with the Canadian instrument called OLA, to measure really, really accurately what the shape is, so we can figure out where to grab a sample to bring it home. It’s going to be incredible.”
The Laser Altimeter on the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is a high-energy tool that is able to accurately scan the asteroid in 3D at a distance of seven kilometers. It also uses a secondary laser for rapid imagery at more close ranges.
“Asteroids tell us about the history of the solar system, and if you can go back and get a piece of an asteroid, essentially what you’ve done is gone back in time by four-and-a-half billion years,” says Haltigin, with regard to the amazing scientific opportunity.
“To help us understand what the early solar system is made of… because (asteroids) are really the leftover bits that went into forming planets, so it helps us learn how planets were made in the first place.”
Bennu to Approach Earth at Close Proximity
Asteroid Bennu was identified back in 1999 by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research mission. After getting close to the space rock, the NASA spacecraft spent one year rotating around it. Then, on December 12th of this year, a landing place was confirmed, which is a stony feature of a 140-meter crater known as Nightingale.
The orbital modeling of the asteroid’s course has generated increasing possibilities of a one-in-2,700 odds the asteroid will crash with Earth sometime between 2175 and 2199. Moreover, the space object is expected to travel within 750,000 kilometers of our planet in 2060.
The OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter was designed for the Canadian Space Agency by Canadian Maxar-MDA Corporation and is hybrid technology from prior input to the Phoenix Mars Lander and trial satellite elements for the U.S. Air Force.