NASA's OSIRIS-REx gets up close and personal with asteroid Bennu

NASA brought its OSIRIS-REx spacecraft very close to the surface of rocky asteroid Bennu in preparation for its brief touchdown scheduled to take place in October. During this latest mission milestone, NASA says its spacecraft came the closest to Bennu thus far in its mission in order to capture high-resolution images of the backup landing site selected for a future sample collection effort.

NASA's OSIRIS-REx is an ambitious mission to collect a physical sample from the surface of Bennu, a very rocky asteroid. The space agency has hit a number of milestones in the months since the spacecraft's launch, including breaking the record for the closest-ever orbit of a spacecraft around a planetary body.

This close orbit provided highly detailed images of the asteroid's surface, which ended up being far more rugged than expected. The rugged nature of Bennu introduced a problem in NASA's mission to touchdown its spacecraft — with such big boulders around, it would have to be extra careful to pick a safe landing site.

After months of work, the OSIRIS-REx team narrowed down the landing sites to four specific locations, one of which is called Osprey. This is the initial backup collection site for the spacecraft if the primary site, Nightingale, ends up proving inadequate for the mission.

The Osprey site is located at the bottom of a crater near the center. NASA tasked its spacecraft will getting within 820ft of the site to capture a total of 347 images using its PolyCam instrument. These images were then stitched together to form a full-size panorama with a resolution of 0.2-inches per pixel.

If everything goes according to plan, the Nightingale sample collection touchdown will take place in October.