Spacecraft Equipped with SDL-Provided Detector Assemblies for Cameras Arrives at Asteroid

December 3, 2018 | Space Dynamics Laboratory

NORTH LOGAN, UT, December 3, 2018 - NASA announced today that its Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, known as OSIRIS-REx, has rendezvoused with the asteroid Bennu. Utah State University’s Space Dynamics Laboratory provided the detector assemblies for the OSIRIS-REx Camera Suite, called OCAMS, instruments.

Launched on September 8, 2016 aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, OSIRIS-REx has traveled more than two billion kilometers to the asteroid and will bring a small sample back to Earth for study. Encapsulated samples of the asteroid will land in Utah in 2023. These samples will help scientists answer questions about the formation of Earth and our solar system. Asteroids are the residual remains of the solar system formation process and can teach us about the history of the sun and planets. Traveling at 63,000 miles per hour, Bennu is classified as a Near Earth Object with an orbit that comes relatively close to our planet.

“We’ve been proud of our participation on this great mission and pleased with the performance of the OCAMS detector assemblies during the initial two-years. Beginning with images of Earth and our Moon during the early stages of OSIRIS-REx’s flight, then to our first images of Bennu, and up to today, the detector assemblies have been working as designed,” said Jed Hancock, SDL’s executive director of programs and operations and SDL program manager for OSIRIS-REx. “Over the next year, NASA will use the cameras to map the surface of the asteroid and help locate a suitable location for sample collection operations.”

SDL partnered with the University of Arizona who provided the three-camera suite which includes PolyCam, an 8-inch telescope that acquired the asteroid from about two million kilometers away. As it approached Bennu, PolyCam imaged the asteroid at high resolution. MapCam has been searching the area around Bennu for natural satellites and outgassing plumes. It will map the asteroid in four colors, determine the exact shape of it and will provide a high-resolution image of the sample site. SamCam will document the sample acquisition and the spacecraft’s touch-and-go maneuver.

Bennu was chosen by NASA for the OSIRIS-REx mission because if its proximity to Earth, its size and its composition. At the time of the mission’s asteroid selection in 2005, there were only 192 asteroids classified as Near Earth Objects that met NASA’s proximity requirements. Asteroids with small diameters rotate more rapidly than those with large diameters. Asteroids less than 200 meters spin so rapidly that the loose material on its surface, known as regolith, can be ejected from it. Of the 192 NEO asteroids, only 26 had a diameter larger than 200 meters. NASA also looked for primitive asteroids – those that are carbon-rich and have not significantly changed since they formed nearly four billion years ago – that contain organic molecules, volatiles, and amino acids that may have been the precursors to life on Earth. Only five asteroids met all criteria.

With a diameter of about 500 meters, Bennu completes an orbit around the Sun every 1.2 years, and every six years comes very close to Earth. According to NASA, these close encounters give Bennu a high probability of impacting Earth in the late 22nd Century.

For more information on the OSIRIS-REx mission, please visit

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