OSIRIS-REx Begins Survey to Pinpoint Best Sample Site on Asteroid Bennu

Self-driving Spacecraft Set for Planetary Defense Expedition

Hera uses infrared to scan impact crater (Credit: ESA–ScienceOffice.org)

PARIS (ESA PR) — Engineers designing ESA’s Hera planetary defence mission to the Didymos asteroid pair are developing advanced technology to let the spacecraft steer itself through space, taking a similar approach to self-driving cars.

“If you think self-driving cars are the future on Earth, then Hera is the pioneer of autonomy in deep space,” explains Paolo Martino, lead systems engineer of ESA’s proposed Hera mission. “While the mission is designed to be fully operated manually from ground, the new technology will be tested once the core mission objectives are achieved and higher risks can be taken.”

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NEOWISE Celebrates Five Years of Asteroid Data

This artist’s concept shows the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, spacecraft, in its orbit around Earth. In its NEOWISE mission it finds and characterizes asteroids. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA/JPL-Caltech PR) — NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) mission released its fifth year of survey data on April 11, 2019. The five years of NEOWISE data have significantly advanced scientists’ knowledge of asteroids and comets in the solar system, as well as the stars and galaxies beyond.

The data from all five years of the survey are available at:

http://wise2.ipac.caltech.edu/docs/release/neowise/.

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SpaceX Wins NASA Launch Contract for Asteroid Redirect Test Mission

DART mission profile (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has selected SpaceX in Hawthorne, California, to provide launch services for the agency’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission, the first-ever mission to demonstrate the capability to deflect an asteroid by colliding a spacecraft with it at high speed – a technique known as a kinetic impactor.

The total cost for NASA to launch DART is approximately $69 million, which includes the launch service and other mission related costs.

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SpaceX Drops Protest Over Contract for Lucy Mission

An artist’s concept of the Lucy Mission. (Credit: SwRI)

SpaceNews reports that SpaceX has dropped it protest of NASA’s decision to award a launch contract to United Launch Alliance (ULA) for its Lucy asteroid mission.

SpaceX did not disclose the reason it withdrew the protest, and a company spokesperson declined to comment when contacted by SpaceNews about the withdrawal. According to GAO’s website, SpaceX filed a separate protest over the same contract March 25, which was also withdrawn April 4. The company also declined to comment on the difference between the two protests.

When it filed the protest in February, SpaceX argued it could perform the same mission for a “dramatically lower” price than the $148.3 million value of the ULA contract. “We believe the decision to pay vastly more to Boeing and Lockheed for the same mission was therefore not in the best interest of the agency or the American taxpayers,” a company spokesperson said then. ULA is a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

ULA said that it was selected in part because it offered schedule assurance for the mission. Lucy must launch during a 20-day window in October 2021 in order to carry out its complex trajectory of flybys of six Trojan asteroids and one in the main asteroid belt. Should the launch miss that window, the mission cannot be flown as currently planned.

Japan’s Hayabusa2 Blasts Asteroid Ryugu

Asteroid Ryugu with north polar boulder (Credit: JAXA, University of Tokyo, Kochi University, Rikkyo University, Nagoya University, Chiba Institute of Technology, Meiji University, University of Aizu and AIST)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

After billions of years of being bombarded by cosmic debris, the Earth finally struck back on Friday.

Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft bombed the asteroid Ryugu in an ambitious attempt to collect samples from beneath the rocky world’s surface. JAXA has confirmed that the orbiter is safe and sound following the operation. The space agency is still downloading images and data acquired during the operation.

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Hubble Watches Spun-Up Asteroid Coming Apart

This Hubble Space Telescope image reveals the gradual self-destruction of an asteroid, whose ejected dusty material has formed two long, thin, comet-like tails. The longer tail stretches more than 500,000 miles (800,000 kilometers) and is roughly 3,000 miles (4,800 kilometers) wide. The shorter tail is about a quarter as long. The streamers will eventually disperse into space. [Credits: NASA, ESA, K. Meech and J. Kleyna (University of Hawaii), and O. Hainaut (European Southern Observatory)]
BALTIMORE, Md. (NASA PR) — A small asteroid has been caught in the process of spinning so fast it’s throwing off material, according to new data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and other observatories.

Images from Hubble show two narrow, comet-like tails of dusty debris streaming from the asteroid (6478) Gault. Each tail represents an episode in which the asteroid gently shed its material — key evidence that Gault is beginning to come apart.

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Earth Strikes Back: Hayabusa2 Prepares to Blast the Bejesus Out of Ryugu

Asteroid Ryugu with north polar boulder (Credit: JAXA, University of Tokyo, Kochi University, Rikkyo University, Nagoya University, Chiba Institute of Technology, Meiji University, University of Aizu and AIST)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

For billions of years, the surface of the Earth has been bombarded by unwanted cosmic visitors. Meteors, comets and asteroids have blasted massive holes in the surface of our planet, resulting in catastrophic climate change, mass extinctions and, according to one theory, the moon itself.

Early next month, the Earth will finally strike back. Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft is preparing to bomb the asteroid Ryugu to obtain a sample from beneath the world’s rocky surface.

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Hayabusa2 Status Reports From JAXA

Figure 2: Touchdown image overlapped with the planned touchdown site. The white dot at the end of the arrow is the target marker. (Credit: JAXA, University of Tokyo, Kochi University, Rikkyo University, Nagoya University, Chiba Institute of Technology, Meiji University, University of Aizu, AIST)

Status Reports From Asteroid Ryugu
Courtesy of JAXA

Hayabusa2 Status (Week of 2019.3.4)

This week, we conducted the “Descent Observation” operation (DO-S01) from 3/6 to 3/8 in order to observe a future touchdown candidate site (S01) in detail. This was the first descent to an altitude of 22m since the 2/22 touchdown. In the first half of the week, we adjusted the pressure of the RCS (thrusters) and found them to be in good condition.

As the Optical Navigation Camera (ONC-W1) appeared to be dusty from the previous touchdown, we did not know if there would be any issues during this descent with the camera or other instruments that we would have to deal with. Luckily, all devices worked normally and we obtained detailed data of S01. The spacecraft returned to the home poison on 3/9 and we are now preparing for the next “crater search” operation (CRA1).

Hayabusa2 status (Week of 2019.2.25)

Immediately after returning to the “home position” at a 20km altitude after the TD1-L08E operation on 2/23, we began a BOX-C operation in which the spacecraft descends to an altitude of about 5km. As one of the observations in this this operation, we observed around the Otohime boulder.

We also downloaded the data obtained by the last touchdown operation (TD1-L08E) and from this BOX-C operation, as well as checking the health of the bus equipment for next week’s “Descent Observation” operation (DO-S01). We had many days of bad weather, and the operation time at the Usuda station was shortened due to wet snow in a late winter. Despite this, we managed many operations in a short time. The spacecraft began to rise back towards the home position on 3/1.

OSIRIS-REx Discovers Particle Plumes Erupting from Bennu’s Surface

This view of asteroid Bennu ejecting particles from its surface on January 19 was created by combining two images taken on board NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. Other image processing techniques were also applied, such as cropping and adjusting the brightness and contrast of each image. (Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/Lockheed Martin)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — A NASA spacecraft that will return a sample of a near-Earth asteroid named Bennu to Earth in 2023 made the first-ever close-up observations of particle plumes erupting from an asteroid’s surface. Bennu also revealed itself to be more rugged than expected, challenging the mission team to alter its flight and sample collection plans, due to the rough terrain.

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A Region of Bennu’s Northern Hemisphere Close Up

Closeups of asteroid Bennu taken by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. (Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)

This trio of images acquired by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft shows a wide shot and two close-ups of a region in asteroid Bennu’s northern hemisphere. The wide-angle image (left), obtained by the spacecraft’s MapCam camera, shows a 590-foot (180-meter) wide area with many rocks, including some large boulders, and a “pond” of regolith that is mostly devoid of large rocks.

The two closer images, obtained by the high-resolution PolyCam camera, show details of areas in the MapCam image, specifically a 50-foot (15 meter) boulder (top) and the regolith pond (bottom). The PolyCam frames are 101 feet (31 meters) across and the boulder depicted is approximately the same size as a humpback whale.

The images were taken on February 25 while the spacecraft was in orbit around Bennu, approximately 1.1 miles (1.8 km) from the asteroid’s surface. The observation plan for this day provided for one MapCam and two PolyCam images every 10 minutes, allowing for this combination of context and detail of Bennu’s surface.

Hayabusa2 Captures Amazing Images From Asteroid Ryugu

Figure 1: Image captured near the touchdown site immediately after touchdown. The photograph was taken with the Optical Navigation Camera – Wide angle (ONC-W1) on February 22, 2019 at an onboard time of around 07:30 JST. (Credit: JAXA, University of Tokyo, Kochi University, Rikkyo University, Nagoya University, Chiba Institute of Technology, Meiji University, University of Aizu, AIST)

TOKYO (JAXA PR) — From February 20 to 22, we conducted the touchdown operation (TD1-L8E1) of Hayabusa2 on the surface of asteroid Ryugu. Figure 1 shows an image taken with the Optical Navigation Camera – Wide angle (ONC-W1) during the spacecraft ascent after touchdown.

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Hayabusa2 Lands on Asteroid Ryugu, Fires Projectile to Collect Sample

TOKYO (JAXA PR) — National Research and Development Agency Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) executed the asteroid explorer Hayabusa2 operation to touch down the surface of the target asteroid Ryugu for sample retrieval.

Data analysis from Hayabusa2 confirms that the sequence of operation proceeded, including shooting a projectile into the asteroid to collect its sample material. The Hayabusa2 spacecraft is in nominal state. This marks the Hayabusa2 successful touchdown on Ryugu.

Rosetta’s Comet Sculpted by Stress

Single frame enhanced NavCam image taken on 27 March 2016, when Rosetta was 329 km from the nucleus of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The scale is 28 m/pixel and the image measures 28.7 km across. (Credit:  ESA/Rosetta/NavCam)

18 February 2019

MARSEILLE, France (ESA PR) — Feeling stressed? You’re not alone. ESA’s Rosetta mission has revealed that geological stress arising from the shape of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko has been a key process in sculpting the comet’s surface and interior following its formation.

Small, icy comets with two distinct lobes seem to be commonplace in the Solar System, with one possible mode of formation a slow collision of two primordial objects in the early stages of formation some 4.5 billion years ago. A new study using data collected by Rosetta during its two years at Comet 67P/C-G has illuminated the mechanisms that contributed to shaping the comet over the following billions of years.

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