Spaceflight Insider

Barely on the job a week, OSIRIS-REx makes major discovery

Artist's depiction of OSIRIS-REx spacecraft at the asteroid Bennu. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin / NASA

Artist’s depiction of OSIRIS-REx spacecraft at the asteroid Bennu. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin / NASA

On Dec. 3, 2018, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft arrived at the half-kilometer wide Bennu asteroid to begin a two-year study to inspect, investigate, and eventually collect samples of the materials making up its mysterious surface.

Seven days after its initial arrival at the tiny world, it was revealed that water lies within the minerals that make up the asteroid.

This discovery came soon after scientists at NASA’S Goddard Space Flight Center examined data from two of the spacecraft’s key instruments, the thermal energy-capturing OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer (OTES) and the OSIRIS-Rex Visible and Infrared Spectrometer (OVIRS).

These instruments have been collecting thermal data in an attempt to test the theory of the Yarkovsky effect, and the role that it plays in altering the orbital path of asteroids. These initial findings suggest that hydroxyl molecules containing hydrogen and oxygen atoms lie trapped inside of the clay that compose the building blocks of Bennu.

While the asteroid remains too small to have ever hosted water itself, scientists believe that it might have, at one point in time, interacted with water, perhaps with its initial parent body.

Initial surveys of the asteroid will continue until Dec. 31 in order for scientists to understand the asteroid’s mass. Once its mass has been determined, the spacecraft will be directed to enter its initial orbit. Afterward, in February, the spacecraft will alter its trajectory for the second phase of surveys.

Mission managers plan to have the spacecraft return samples from Bennu back to Earth by parachute at the United States Air Force Test Training Range located in Utah on Sept. 24, 2023. Upon its return, scientists will examine data found in the spacecraft’s Sample Return Capsule to help further understand the building blocks of asteroids.





Having a life-long interest in crewed space flight, Desforges’ passion materialized on a family vacation in 1999 when he was able see the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery on STS-96. Since then, Desforges has been an enthusiast of space exploration efforts. He lived in Orlando, Florida for a year, during which time he had the opportunity to witness the flights of the historic CRS-4 and EFT-1 missions in person at Cape Canaveral. He earned his Private Pilot Certificate in 2017, holds a degree in Aviation Management, and currently works as an Operations Analyst in the aviation industry in Georgia.

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