NASA’s Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security — Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft is hurtling through the void in order to link up with an asteroid named Bennu in 2018. While the intrepid spacecraft still has a way to go until its big rendezvous, it recently flew by Earth. It posed no immediate danger to our planet, but if you had a good telescope with a camera, you might have been able to snap a pic!
Over the weekend, OSIRIS-REx made its closest approach to Earth, missing us by just 17,700km, according to the New York Times. It zoomed over Australia and Antarctica at about 30,580km/h, grabbing some momentum to slingshot itself toward Bennu.
This gravity assist from Earth nudged the spacecraft up about six degrees, putting it on track to hook up with Bennu.
“The Earth Gravity Assist is a clever way to move the spacecraft onto Bennu’s orbital plane using Earth’s own gravity instead of expending fuel,” Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator, said in a statement.
OSIRIS-REx left Earth in September 2016 on its journey toward Bennu — but it will be back. The spacecraft will take samples of the asteroid, which scientists believe contains molecules that date back to the birth of the solar system. The spacecraft will return a few kilos of rocky samples to Earth in 2023.