The National Administration of Space and Aeronautics or better known as JAR, announced that OSIRIS-REx will have a new mission to extend its lifespan: accompany the asteroid Apophis during its next approach to Earth in 2029.
This approach will be a unique event that at the time set off alarm bells for near-Earth object (NEO) trackers. Now, the OSIRIS probe is already returning to Earth with samples collected during its first mission.
The discovery of Apophis. Today, we know that Apophis will not pose a real danger to Earth for at least the next 100 years. But there is a short period of time when this possibility is considered, and it has to do with how to control these potentially dangerous objects.
The rock was first seen in 2004 and, after a few months of observations and calculations, its close pass of Earth in 2029 was initially estimated at a collision risk of 2.7%. This is the highest risk ever calculated for such an event.
Observatories have been tracking the object to refine the data so they can calculate its orbit more accurately. Once a sufficient number of observations have been obtained, the effect can be ruled out. Even so, Apophis will pass at a distance of just over 36,500 kilometers from Earth, which means that from many parts of the planet, the planet will be visible to the naked eye in the night sky.
The asteroid will pass beneath the satellite in a geostationary orbit, one-tenth the distance around which the Moon orbits. That would be April 13, 2029, in case an Infobae reader wants to write it down on their calendar.
Illustration of the asteroid Apophis. (photo: National Geographic)
The calculations for determining the orbits of asteroids moving between the gravity fields of many larger objects, such as planets, moons, and the Sun itself, are extremely complex.
But one thing is certain, the greater the number of observations and the higher their precision, the easier it is to make precise predictions about their future (and past, if necessary) trajectories. This is where the new mission to explode from Apophis: OSIRIS-APEX.
OSIRIS-APEX, the mission that will investigate Apophis. (photo: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)
The mission will take place when University of Arizona researcher, Daniella Dell Giustina direct the operation. OSIRIS-APEX will accompany the asteroid for 18 months as it passes close to Earth. During this period, will collect as much information as possible about the space object.
Another interesting aspect of this mission will be the gravity drive. As it passes close to Earth, its gravity can affect the structure of the asteroid itself.
In the same way that the Moon affects the tides by “distorting” the Earth’s surface, the greater gravitational pull the asteroid will experience as it passes near Earth could affect its structure, causing earth movements and possibly bringing new materials to its surface.
OSIRIS-APEX. (photo: NASA)
And if possible, the OSIRS-APEX team has proposed that the probe land on the asteroid to serve as a “beacon” and thus be able to follow its route more precisely. This will help better control potentially dangerous NEOs for centuries to come.
As if that were not enough, before the end of the mission, in the fall of 2030, the probe will perform a maneuver that will direct its engines towards the asteroid and “raise dust”, remove the surface to try to gather observations of the innermost layers of the asteroid.
Illustration of the OSIRIS-APEX probe on the asteroid. (photo: NASA)
The announcement of the OSIRIS-APEX extension did not come alone. NASA announced the expansion of a total of eight assignments: Mars Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, MAVEN, Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity), InSight Lander, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, New Horizons and OSIRIS-APEX itself.
Most of these missions will have a duration of approximately three years, always depending on the state of the material that is sent, although the OSIRIS-APEX is a mission that could last until 2030. Or even more.