As NASA’s asteroid-bound spacecraft OSIRIS-REx approaches Earth for its September 22 gravity assist, a ground-based telescope has captured images of the spacecraft. This is the first Earth-based view of OSIRIS-REx since its launch on September 8, 2016, NASA said on Friday. The images were taken on September 2, by the Large Binocular Telescope Observatory located on Mount Graham in Arizona. OSIRIS-REx was approximately 12 million kilometres away when the images were taken, NASA said.
The Large Binocular Telescope is a pair of 8.4-metre mirrors mounted side by side on the same mount, that can work together to provide resolution equivalent to a 22.7-metre telescope. The telescope typically conducts imaging of more distant objects but took this opportunity to look for OSIRIS-REx with a pair of wide-field cameras (one per mirror) as the spacecraft approaches Earth for its gravity assist.
This encounter will change the spacecraft’s trajectory and set it on course to rendezvous with asteroid Bennu, where it will collect a sample of surface material and return it to Earth for study in 2023.
The OSIRIS-REx mission team is collecting other images of the spacecraft taken by observatories and other ground-based telescopes around the world during this period — approximately September 10-23, depending on location and local conditions.