Space Dynamics Lab involved in study of asteroid 200 million miles away

SDL built the camera electronics for a three-camera suite onboard OSIRIS-REx named OCAMS. The onboard cameras SDL helped to build are known as PolyCam, MapCam and SamCam. PolyCam enabled NASA to acquire images of Bennu from approximately 1.2 million miles away and assisted with the spacecraft's navigation to the asteroid during approach. Image credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona.

LOGAN – With help from Utah State University’s Space Dynamics Laboratory (SDL) in September of 2016, NASA launched a spacecraft 200 million miles into space to an asteroid to hopefully begin answering questions central to the human experience.

SDL helped build the cameras onboard OSIRIS which initially enabled NASA to acquire images of the asteroid Bennu from about 1.2 million miles away.

Alan Thurgood, SDL’s Civil and Commercial Space Division Director, said the spacecraft arrived at Bennu in August of 2018 and just last week extended its robotic arm to collect debris from the surface of the asteroid.

“When they got there they found out it was much more rocky than what they had expected,” Thurgood said. “They had some images from telescopes on the earth and they expected there were some areas that had a lot of sandy area.

“When they got there, there were very large boulders, very few spots that were actually nice spots where it was safe to take the spacecraft in and touch the surface and collect a sample.”

Thurgood said scientists estimate asteroids might be what is left over when worlds were created four billion years ago.

“It’s been out there in space, it hasn’t been affected by humans or anything,” Thurgood added. “So this is really some of the basic building blocks from when the universe was formed.

“Being able to have some of that material, bring it back to earth, study it in laboratories and understand what is the composition, how did it result in forming life here on earth. Those are the types of questions they are trying to answer.”

Thurgood said the asteroid is about 1500 feet in diameter.

OSIRIS will return to earth on Sept. 24, 2023.

SDL built the camera electronics for a three-camera suite onboard OSIRIS named OCAMS.

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