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Cameras Designed in Utah Help NASA Satellite Approach Asteroid

October 24, 2018 | KSL TV

LOGAN, Utah – It’s taken two years, and well over a billion miles, but NASA’s Osiris-REx satellite is inching closer to the asteroid, Bennu, now at only around 2,000 miles away. The landmark in the mission is exciting for engineers and researchers at Space Dynamics Laboratory, located on the Innovation Campus, at Utah State University, because specialized cameras designed there, will now help the spacecraft safely enter the asteroid’s orbit.

“They’re doing close up inspections of the area around the asteroid.” Executive Director of Programs and Operations, Jay Hancock said. “In order to maintain safe operations, when the satellite gets really close to the asteroid and is about to touch down, we want to know if there’s any particles or rocks or boulders that could potentially damage the spacecraft.”

Osiris-REx is expected to enter Bennu’s orbit in just under 40 days. It will stay there and gather data for several months, before it moves in to touch down on the asteroid, grab a sample, and head back to Earth.

“It actually touches down for a brief moment, collects the sample, and then leaves,” Hancock said. “We’re thrilled. It’s getting really close to the most important event.”

The sample from Bennu is expected to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere, above Dugway, Utah in 2023. From there, it will be picked up by helicopter and taken to NASA for analysis. Hancock says because Bennu is older than our solar system, it’s materials could help answer questions about how the planets were formed.

“It will have the chemical compounds and constituents that existed before the formation of the planets in our solar system,” Hancock said