NASA announced that the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, on its way back to Earth after collecting samples from the asteroid Bennu, will travel to the asteroid Apophis after returning the samples in 2023.
The main spacecraft, after ejecting its return container that will land in the Utah desert, will fly across Earth on a path that will take it to Apophis in 2029, shortly after the asteroid has passed just 32,000 km from Earth, where the spacecraft will spend 18 months near Apophis, to study the 350-meter-diameter asteroid and get close enough to use its thruster to scrape off surface rock and reveal subsurface material.
According to Space News, the asteroid Apophis has long been of interest to planetary scientists due to its approach to Earth in 2029 and 2036, which raised concerns about its impact for a period after its discovery, and while scientists ruled out a collision, careful research offered the possibility of sending space missions to study the asteroid, which is Something the OSIRIS-REx mission team has been discussing since 2020.
“Apophis is one of the most well-known asteroids, and OSIRIS-REx will become the principal investigator for the extended mission,” OSIRIS-REx Deputy Principal Investigator Danny Delagostina said in a statement.
Scientists will use the expanded mission to study the composition of the asteroid as well as determine whether the asteroid’s structure has been affected by near-Earth flight. The project estimates the extended mission will cost $200 million over nine years.
“The investigation is not without significant technical risks,” wrote Laurie Glaese, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, in approving the extension. spacecraft to Bennu, requiring what she called “significant engineering work” so that the spacecraft’s systems could survive several such close approaches before it reached Apophis.