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See Bennu Upclose! NASA to Examine Near-Earth Asteroid Through OSIRIS-REx's Robotic Eyes

Dec 13, 2016 11:27 AM EST
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NASA's asteroid mission aims to peek into the composition of the space rock Bennu using OSIRIS-REx's robotic eyes. The spacecraft, with the help of its scientific payload, will examine the near-Earth object to further enhance asteroid path prediction.

Although there is a very slim chance of a killer asteroid hitting the Earth, experts are not taking it lightly. There are about 10,000 near-Earth asteroids and NASA is using the inexhaustible number to further study and understand their behavior.

Recently, NASA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) collaborated to test their emergency action plan, in case an asteroid comes hurtling towards the Earth. The partnership aims to improve asteroid path prediction capabilities that, in the long run, will help save lives.

But that's not the only move NASA is undergoing in order to improve its asteroid-detecting systems. NASA's Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) was launched to perform a comprehensive surface mapping of asteroid Bennu and to eventually collect samples from the asteroid rock to be brought back to Earth.

Launched last September, the spacecraft, equipped with the most advanced robotic systems, is expected to bring back asteroid samples to Earth in 2023. But that's not its only mission; the spacecraft will also examine the asteroid using it's equally innovative "robotic eyes."

OSIRIS-REx will use the three cameras aboard the spacecraft OSIRIS-REx Camera Suite (OCAMS) to capture images of asteroid Bennu called. The three cameras are namely: Polycam, MapCam and SamCam. Each camera has its own function.

Polycam is a high-resolution camera that's responsible for photographing Bennu and performing the actual surface mapping. MapCam is of lower resolution and capable of mapping the asteroid in color, enabling it to search for dust plumes. Lastly, the SamCam will be utilized to capture the sample collection process. The cameras are designed to have each others' backs if troubles kick in.

"When you have a critical mission like this, you want redundancy. The cameras have some amount of overlap in their capabilities. They're not exact copies of each other, but if one fails, they can still get the job done," Christian d'Aubigny, deputy instrument scientists for OCAMS, said in a statement.

OSIRIS-REx will beam back images captured its robotic eyes to the control base on Earth. Before the sample arrives on the planet, scientists will have to work with the images taken by the spacecraft.

 

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