The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft carried out a two-year reconnaissance and sample collection on asteroid Bennu, providing crucial data on the potentially hazardous 500-meter-wide pile of rubble/space rock. When OSIRIS-REx arrived on December 3, 2018, it needed delicate navigation and precise maneuvering to make the mission work.
Experts at NASA’s Goddard Science Visualization Studio have created a stunning visualization of the path the spacecraft took during its investigations. A short film titled “A Web Around Asteroid Bennu” highlights the complexity of the mission, and the film is shown at the SIGGRAPH Computer Graphics Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, a festival honoring outstanding works of animated storytelling by computer.
Other films at the festival include Disney’s ‘Encanto’ and Warner Brothers’ ‘The Batman’.
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Data viewer Kel Elkins compiled data from the movie, which shows the web-like flight path for OSIRIS-REx, as well as the touch or TAG maneuver to collect the sample from the asteroid’s surface.
“I started working with trajectory data in 2015,” Elkins said. “And when you first see a picture of all the different maneuvers, it looks like a rat’s nest. But it was really exciting to see these complicated maneuvers in 3D space.
The video is about four minutes in total, showing the flight path around Bennu from start to finish in one continuous shot.
“From a trajectory and navigation perspective, the team has really done things that have never been done before in planetary exploration,” Mike Moreau, deputy project manager for OSIRIS-REx, told NASA Godard. “We flew the spacecraft closer to this object than any spacecraft has ever flown before; we made maneuvers that were centimeters per second, or millimeters per second, in order to get the spacecraft exactly where it needed to be and change its orbit.
Taking their data visualization to the next level, Elkins and his colleagues plan to release a 360-degree version of “A Web Around Asteroid Bennu” that wraps the video around the viewer, for an interactive experience on VR headsets, mobile devices, and on line.
“As incredible as it may seem to see the trajectory in front of you in the original format, there’s something about putting the viewer in the middle and letting them look around,” Elkins said. “You are in space and OSIRIS-REx is flying around you. We’re really excited to be able to release this additional 360 degree view.
OSIRIS-REx is currently on its way back to Earth, and in September 2023 will deposit a sample in the Utah desert. Once the sample was retrieved, the spacecraft was given a new mission, and it will head to one of the most infamous asteroids of all, the potentially dangerous asteroid Apophis for an 18-month study. The mission will be renamed OSIRIS-APEX, which is short for OSIRIS-Apophis Explorer.