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We’re still mourning the loss of Cassini but space exploration doesn’t have time for emotion. Instead, another craft is on NASA’s radar this week as it’s set to fly past Earth to begin its mission in earnest.
The craft in question is Osiris-Rex. Launched in September 2016, it’s on its way to the nearby asteroid Bennu. It’s also set to return samples of the 500m diameter asteroid to Earth.
It’s an ambitious mission, and part of it involves using Earth’s planet’s gravitational pull as a slingshot. Completing this manoeuvre today, it will today pass around 11 000km above Antarctica and eastern Australia.
— NASA’s OSIRIS-REx (@OSIRISREx) September 22, 2017
Rich Burns, the craft’s project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, sees this as an opportunity for the craft to snap a few spacies of Earth.
“Not only will it be a significant change in trajectory putting OSIRIS-REx on track for rendezvous with Bennu, it also represents a unique opportunity for the OSIRIS-REx instruments to observe our home planet.
“It is fantastic that ground based observers are also taking the opportunity to image OSIRIS-REx,” he notes.
This flyby will also be the final time that Earthlings will see the craft until its return in 2023. Notably, NASA has also asked amateur astronomers to send in their images of the craft.
“Members of the public without telescopes can still celebrate the Earth Gravity Assist by joining the ‘Wave to OSIRIS-REx’ social media campaign,” the organisation adds.
“Individuals and groups from anywhere in the world are encouraged to take photos of themselves waving to OSIRIS-REx, share them using the hashtag #HelloOSIRISREx and tag the mission account in their posts on Twitter (@OSIRISREx) or Instagram (@OSIRIS_REx).”
The craft’s closest approach is predicted to be around 6.52pm South African time.
Feature image: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/University of Arizona