NASA's Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-REx, spacecraft has completed its 1.2 billion-mile journey to arrive at the asteroid Bennu.
The space agency says the spacecraft executed a maneuver that transitioned it from flying toward Bennu to operating around the asteroid on Monday.
Now, at a little more than 11 miles from Bennu’s Sun-facing surface, OSIRIS-REx will begin a preliminary survey of the asteroid.
NASA scientists say the spacecraft will commence flyovers of Bennu's north pole, equatorial region, and south pole, getting as close as nearly 4 miles above Bennu during each flyover.
The initial science goals of this survey, according to the space agency, are to refine estimates of Bennu’s mass and spin rate, and to generate a more precise model of its shape.
The data will help determine potential sites for later sample collection.
NASA scientists say the OSIRIS-REx's mission will help scientists investigate how planets formed and how life began, as well as improve our understanding of asteroids that could impact Earth.
Asteroids are remnants of the building blocks that formed the planets and enabled life.
Data indicate that asteroids like Bennu contain natural resources, such as water, organics and metals. Future space exploration and economic development may rely on asteroids for these materials.
The mission's navigation team will use the preliminary survey of Bennu to practice the delicate task of navigating around the asteroid.
The spacecraft will then enter orbit around Bennu on Dec. 31.
That will make Bennu, which is about the length of five football fields, the smallest object ever orbited by a spacecraft.
When OSIRIS-REx begins to orbit Bennu at the end of this month, it will come close to approximately three quarters of a mile to its surface.
In February 2019, the spacecraft begins efforts to globally map Bennu to determine the best site for sample collection.
After the collection site is selected, the spacecraft will briefly touch the surface of Bennu to retrieve a sample.
OSIRIS-REx is scheduled to return the sample to Earth in September 2023.