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NASA: OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Mission Snaps ‘First-Light’ Photos in Space

Oct 03, 2016 05:11 AM EDT
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NASA's OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft took its "first-light" images in space after its crucial instruments check.

The groundbreaking mission, which is tasked to rendezvous with carbon-rich asteroid Bennu to capture samples and return them to Earth, conducted a health check of all five of its scientific instruments and one navigational system on Sept.19, and the space vehicle did not disappoint.

"The spacecraft has passed its initial instrument check with flying colors as it speeds toward a 2018 rendezvous with the asteroid Bennu," NASA officials said in a report by Universe Today.

One of the instruments, the OSIRIS-REx Camera Suite's (OCAMS) MapCam, which was contributed by the University of Arizona, has recently taken its "first-light" image showing a star field in Taurus (north of the constellation Orion).

OCAMS, which is the "eyes" of the spacecraft, is made up of three cameras--the MapCam, the SamCam and the PolyCam--designed to provide high-resolution images and map of the asteroid Bennu.

"Launch is like birth," Bashar Rizk, senior staff scientist for OCAMS, said in a statement. "It's like watching the newborn take its first breaths. During the instrument checkout, we exercised every piece of copper in all cameras, the circuits, the detectors, the focus mechanism, everything."

The instrument's PolyCam will spot the asteroid from a million miles away, as well as help identify dangerous areas on the asteroid's surface as the spacecraft closes in. The MapCam (Mapping Camera) will map the entire surface of the asteroid from a safe distance of three miles. Once a sampling site is chosen, the SamCam (Sampling Camera) will continuously document the spacecraft's final trip on the asteroid's surface and the sampling sequence, researchers from the University of Arizona said.

Alongside OCAMS, other scientific instruments that were tested include the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA) contributed by the Canadian Space Agency, the OSIRIS-REx Visible and Infrared Spectrometer (OVIRS) from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, the OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emissions Spectrometer (OTES) from Arizona State University and the student experiment Regolith X-ray Imaging Spectrometer (REXIS) contributed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The navigational instrument Touch and Go Camera System (TAGCAMS) also operated as expected.

The OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer) mission successfully launched on Sept. 8 from Cape Canaveral Air Force in Florida. The spacecraft is scheduled to intercept Bennu by 2018 to collect samples and bring them back to Earth in 2023.

Read More:
NASA’s Asteroid Mission Could Save Earth From Potential Impact
New Software Traces OSIRIS-REx’s Complex Route to Asteroid Bennu
NASA to Launch $1.25 Billion Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) in 2021

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