A spacecraft just used the Earth as a giant slingshot as it heads toward an incredible mission to sample an asteroid near the Earth.
A probe launched by NASA that will target an asteroid for sample has recently lifted off from Earth and will slingshot our planet on its way to its eventual target. The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft flew past the Earth on Sept. 22 about a year after launching as a mission to the near-Earth asteroid named Bennu.
The probe passed just 10,711 miles above Antarctica on its recent pass as it catches a boost from our gravity to get momentum to the asteroid. The move greatly accelerates the probe as it heads toward the 500-meter-wide Bennu.
The flyby increased the speed of OSIRIS-Rex by 8,451 miles per hour. The $800 million mission launched back in September 2016.
“NASA’s asteroid sample return mission, OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security – Regolith Explorer), will pass about 11,000 miles (17,000 kilometers) above Earth just before 12:52 p.m. EDT on Friday, Sept. 22. Using Earth as a slingshot, the spacecraft will receive an assist to complete its journey to the asteroid Bennu,” according to a NASA statement. “OSIRIS-REx is undertaking a challenging mission to visit the near-Earth asteroid, survey the surface, collect samples and deliver them safely back to Earth. This is the first NASA mission to attempt such an undertaking. The spacecraft is halfway through its two-year outbound journey, and now OSIRIS-REx needs an extra boost to successfully rendezvous with Bennu.”