Marshall Space Flight Center provides update on asteroid missions

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – The folks at the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) on Redstone Arsenal are calling the next few weeks “asteroid fall.” Indeed, MSFC crews are working on several missions focused on asteroids.

OSIRIS-REx mission: Capsule to return to Earth

Sunday September 24, 2023 will be a big day for the OSIRIS-REx mission. The spacecraft capsule will make a triumphant return to earth, having been in space since 2016.

The objective of the OSIRIS-REx, or Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, mission is to bring a sample of an asteroid back to Earth for testing.

On September 8, 2016, the ORISIS-REx spacecraft was launched into space aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. Then, in October 2020, the spacecraft briefly landed on the asteroid Bennu, where it collected samples from the surface. Now, scientists are impatiently awaiting the return of the capsule containing the samples.

NASA plans for the capsule to return to Earth’s surface by landing in a remote part of the Utah desert just outside Salt Lake City.

Of course, the mission would not be possible without the contributions of NASA scientists at the Marshall Space Flight Center. OSIRIS-REx is part of the MSFC’s New Frontiers program.

“This is something we have been dreaming of and preparing for for over a decade,” said Solveig Irvine, head of mission.

She will witness the return of the capsule from Utah.

“To see him come down and see those parachutes deploy is going to be a wonderful, unreal experience,” Irvine said in an interview with News 19 on Monday.

The capsule will contain samples collected from the surface of the asteroid Bennu in 2020.

“It detected regolith, which is a kind of rubble from the surface of the asteroid,” the mission leader said.

Although the mission was successful in collecting samples, it did not go as planned. When the spacecraft landed on Bennu’s surface, it went much deeper than expected and the surface material was not what scientists thought they would find.

“All the data we had at the time indicated the surface would be sandy and when we got there, it wasn’t sandy at all,” Irvine said. “So we had to design things on the fly. »

NASA said the OSIRIS-REx mission is important for many reasons, perhaps the most important of which is that it could give humans a better idea of ​​our neighbors in space.

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“Understanding the composition of Bennu is going to help us understand what microbiology was here, chemistry here on Earth, before we had life on Earth,” Irvine said. “And what kind of chemistry happens in space.”

Once the sample capsule lands in Utah, it will be collected so NASA scientists can begin studying it.

A model of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft.

Although the capsule returns to Earth, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will remain in space. In fact, the spacecraft will be renamed OSIRIS-APEX and begin its journey to another asteroid, called Apothis, by 2029.

NASA will livestream the return of the OSIRIS-REx capsule here.

Mission Psyche: we are getting closer to launch

The Psyche mission is another asteroid-focused mission that NASA currently has in the works. The Psyche spacecraft will launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy en route to an asteroid also named Psyche.

The Psyche launch window begins on October 5, 2023.

Psyche is a unique, metal-rich asteroid that orbits the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. NASA says it will be a years-long journey from the time of launch to the time it begins orbiting the asteroid Psyche.

Brad Zavodsky is mission manager for the Psyche mission at the Marshall Space Flight Center. Zavodsky told News 19 that, unlike the OSIRIS-REx mission, the Psyche mission will not land a spacecraft on the surface of the asteroid Psyche.

Instead, it will use various tools onboard the spacecraft to learn more about the asteroid and its core.

A model of the Psyche Mission spacecraft.

Zavodsky said there will be three main data collection tools on board.

“It has a gamma-ray and neutron spectrometer, a magnetometer and two imagers,” he said. “The objective of the Psyche mission is to try to understand whether the metallic asteroid is a planetary core, or a remnant of a planet that began and then was impacted by colossal impacts early in the formation of the solar system , or if it is some kind of planetary core of another planetary body.

Zavodsky said that if Psyche was a planetary core, it might be similar to the Earth’s core. He said this information could give them insight into the formation of Earth and early solar systems.

The Psyche Mission is part of the MSFC Discovery program.

Deep Space Optical Communications “Hitchhikes” for Psyche Mission

“Deep space optical communications (DSOC) involves using lasers to communicate at distances further from the planet,” said Joel Robinson, DSOC mission manager.

DSOC will carry out a mission aboard the Psyche spacecraft for the first two years. Its goal is to bring technology deeper into space than ever before.

“The uniqueness of the DSOC is the ability to meet new pointing requirements, track the spacecraft and communicate with it to transmit information and also link back to Earth,” Robinson said.

Simply put, a laser beam from Earth will communicate with the spacecraft when it is in space, and NASA will be able to learn from the data communicated via the laser.

“This demonstrates the ability to use laser communication on a moving spacecraft, as this will be key to the use of this technology, perhaps for future exploration beyond the Moon and perhaps even beyond. March.”

Robinson explained that NASA has a facility just north of San Bernardino, Calif., where the laser is transmitted to the spacecraft. “On board Psyche, he has a trans-receiver, so he’s both a transmitter and a receiver, and so he’s able to receive that information, do his magic, and try to send that information back to an observatory near San Diego, and that’s how this information is sent back and forth.

“The laser works effectively on other frequencies that radio communications does not,” Robinson said. “What makes it unique is its bandwidth capacity, and so we’re talking about being able to move more data in a given amount of time than with radio communications.”

“With radio you hear certain instructions and things like that, with laser you have to be able to interrogate what you see and turn that into ‘oh, this is what this information is showing us’.”

Robinson said they hope to learn more about DSOC and laser technology with this mission, so it can contribute to future space missions.


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