Earth imaged on Sept. 22, 2017 by the MapCam instrument aboard OSIRIS-REx. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona
Here’s our beautiful blue marble as seen by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on Sept. 22, 2017 from a distance of 106,000 miles (170,000 km). It had just completed a gravity-assist flyby of Earth—a little 19,000 mph “once around the block” that gave the spacecraft an 8,500-mile-an-hour speed boost necessary to adjust its course toward Bennu, the asteroid target of its mission.
OSIRIS-REx launched from Cape Canaveral on Sept. 8, 2016 aboard a ULA Atlas V rocket. It has since been in orbit around the Sun, and on Sept. 22, 2017 it “borrowed” a bit of Earth’s momentum to put it into the right inclination to meet up with Bennu in August 2018.
The launch of OSIRIS-REx (© Jason Major)
“The encounter with Earth is fundamental to our rendezvous with Bennu,” said Rich Burns, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “The total velocity change from Earth’s gravity far exceeds the total fuel load of the OSIRIS-REx propulsion system, so we are really leveraging our Earth flyby to make a massive change to the OSIRIS-REx trajectory, specifically changing the tilt of ...