Utah State University’s Space Dynamics Lab sent some digital imaging equipment into space two years ago aboard the robotic explorer OSIRIS-Rex, a spacecraft used for studying an asteroid. The spacecraft recently pulled within 12 miles (19 kilometers) of Bennu, a diamond-shaped ancient asteroid to study its surface. OSIRIS-Rex will rotate around the asteroid mapping it for a year before taking samples of the surface and making it back to earth in 2023.
“SDL designed and provided the detector assemblies or the electronics that recorded images for the OSIRIS-Rex Camera Suite known as OCAMS instrument,” said Eric Warren, SDL director of public relations. “We have posted some excellent images and right now we are making sure the space craft’s instruments are working and the mapping of the asteroid continues.”
The SUV sized spacecraft will begin its return journey from the 500 meter in diameter asteroid in 2021, and arrive in Utah in 2023.
“When the first images came back, the SDL team that participated in the building of the cameras was excited about the mission,” Warren said. “When it returns to earth, the spacecraft is expected to land in Utah’s Dugway Proving Grounds, approximately 85 miles southwest of Salt Lake City.” Dugway covers 1,248 square miles of ground used for weapons, chemical and rocket testing.
University of Arizona provided SDL with the three-camera suite housing their OSCAME technology, including an eight inch telescope which first captured the asteroid.
“We’re proud of our participation on this great mission and pleased with the performance of the OCAMES detector assemblies during the initial two years,” said Jed Hancock, SDL’s executive director of programs and operations. “During the next year, along with mapping the asteroids OSCAMES, the director will help find a suitable location for sample collection operation.”
Scientists are eager to study material from asteroid dust from Bennu, it could hold evidence dating back to the beginning of our solar system, 4.5 billion years ago.
“Benefitting our scientific understanding of how the solar system was formed and what the building blocks of life are. We will understand more about how they orbit, and so we will be able to better predict the orbit of other asteroids,” Hancock said. “The minerals and chemicals on this asteroid existed during the solar system’s formation.”
While Space Dynamics Laboratory personnel were relishing the success of the OSIRIS-Rex, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced the successful launch of its Space Dynamics Laboratory-designed Polar Scout small satellites aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket into a sun synchronous orbit.
The two Polar Scout satellites lifted off Tuesday, December 3, from the Space Launch Complex at Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA. Preliminary telemetry indicates the satellites are healthy and operating as designed.
“SDL continues to have a great relationship with NASA,” Warren said.