In a bold extension of its mission, the spacecraft formerly known as OSIRIS-REx embarks on an unprecedented journey to explore the asteroid Apophis.
This celestial body is scheduled to make a historic tour around the Earth in 2029, an unprecedented event since the beginning of recorded history.
The spacecraft, now renamed Osiris-Apex (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security – Apophis Explorer), leverages its successful past to venture into new cosmic territories.
OSIRIS-REx's journey is nothing short of extraordinary. After a seven-year, 4-billion-mile expedition, it returned to Earth with a sample of the asteroid Bennu.
This September feat marked the pinnacle of space exploration. With its instruments still in perfect condition and a quarter of its fuel remaining, the decision to reuse the spacecraft for a new mission was a natural progression.
Decision to explore asteroid Apophis
Apophis, an S-type asteroid composed of silicate and nickel-iron materials, contrasts starkly with the carbon-rich C-type asteroid Bennu.
After considering several potential destinations, including Venus and various comets, NASA's choice of Apophis was driven by its interesting proximity to Earth.
On April 13, 2029, Apophis will pass within 20,000 miles (32,000 km) of Earth's surface, closer than some satellites and likely visible to the naked eye in the Eastern Hemisphere.
Asteroids the size of Apophis, which are about 367 yards (340 meters) across, approach Earth about once every 7,500 years. This rarity represents an invaluable opportunity for scientific exploration and understanding.
Objectives of the asteroid Apophis mission
As Amy Simon, a mission project scientist at NASA, explained Goddard Space Flight CenterOSIRIS-APEX aims to study Apophis immediately after its approach to Earth.
“OSIRIS-APEX will study Apophis directly after this pass, allowing us to see how its surface changes by interacting with Earth's gravity,” he said. Simon.
This will allow scientists to monitor any surface changes resulting from Earth's gravitational interaction with the asteroid.
Furthermore, Danny Mendoza Dellagiostina, principal investigator of OSIRIS-APEX at the University of Arizona in Tucson, highlights the importance of this close approach as a natural experiment.
“The close approach is a great natural experience,” he said. Della Giustina. “We know that tidal forces and the buildup of rubble pile material are fundamental processes that can play a role in planet formation. They can tell us how we went from debris in the early solar system to full-fledged planets.”
This event could provide insight into tidal forces and the accumulation of cumulus piles, fundamental processes that may have played a role in the planet's formation.
Asteroid mission schedule Apophis
Apophis is a major topic in understanding potentially dangerous asteroids, most of which are S-type like itself.
Insights gained from this mission will be critical to planetary defense research, a top priority for NASA. By April 2, 2029, OSIRIS-APEX will begin imaging Apophis as it pursues the asteroid.
Ground-based telescopes will also observe Apophis, but after the close encounter, the asteroid will be too close to the Sun for ground-based optical telescopes to observe it.
This puts OSIRIS-APEX in a unique position to detect any changes resulting from the encounter.
Study Apophis up close
When it arrives on April 13, 2029, OSIRIS-APEX will operate near the asteroid for about 18 months. Its mission includes mapping the surface, analyzing its chemical composition, and performing a daring maneuver: diving 16 feet from the surface of Apophis to stir up rocks and dust, thus revealing the materials beneath.
Although the date is more than five years away, OSIRIS-APEX's journey includes six close passes of the Sun and three gravitational assists, putting it on course for Apophis.
What discoveries lie ahead is yet to be seen, but as Amy Simon poignantly said, the mission's previous accomplishments on Bennu have only deepened the scientific community's curiosity and questions for Apophis.
In short, the OSIRIS-APEX mission to Apophis is a continuation of the legacy of its predecessor, but also a step into a world of new possibilities and discoveries. It provides insight into the formative processes of our solar system and advances our understanding of asteroid dynamics and planetary defense.
More about OSIRIS-REx
As mentioned above, the OSIRIS-REx mission, an ambitious NASA endeavor, represents a milestone in space exploration and the study of asteroids.
This mission was launched on September 8, 2016, with the aim of reaching the near-Earth asteroid Bennu, a carbon-rich body that scientists believe holds clues to the early solar system and the origins of life.
Overview of mission and objectives
OSIRIS-REx, which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, set out on a journey that spanned millions of miles. Its primary goal was to collect and return samples from Bennu's surface.
This mission was of enormous scientific importance, as asteroids like Bennu are remnants from the formation of the solar system, and likely contain organic compounds and water.
Journey to asteroid Bennu
After a two-year journey, OSIRIS-REx arrived at Bennu in December 2018. The spacecraft then spent two years in close proximity to the asteroid, mapping its surface in unprecedented detail and choosing the most suitable site to collect samples.
This phase involved complex maneuvers and precise navigation around the asteroid's small gravitational field.
Collection of historical specimens
In October 2020, OSIRIS-REx made history by successfully landing on Bennu's surface and collecting samples.
A “Touch-And-Go” (TAG) sample acquisition mechanism allowed the spacecraft to briefly contact the asteroid and use a blast of nitrogen gas to stir up the regolith (surface material), which was then captured in the sampling head.
Return and land on the ground
OSIRIS-REx, with its precious payload, began its journey to Earth in May 2021. NASA's OSIRIS-REx team then achieved a huge feat in space exploration, successfully returning a capsule containing rocks and dust from the asteroid Bennu to Earth.
The capsule registered its entry to Earth at 8:52 a.m. EDT on Sunday, landing precisely in a pre-determined area at the Department of Defense Test and Training Range in Utah, near Salt Lake City.
This event marks the first time NASA has obtained samples from an asteroid, providing invaluable material for research that could revolutionize our understanding of the solar system and the beginnings of life.
Like what I read? Subscribe to our newsletter to get engaging articles, exclusive content and latest updates.
Visit us at EarthSnap, a free app brought to you by Eric Ralls and Earth.com.
“Web maven. Infuriatingly humble beer geek. Bacon fanatic. Typical creator. Music expert.”