TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - A NASA mission lead by the University of Arizona is celebrating two years in space.
OSIRIS-REx blasted off from Cape Canaveral, FL, on Sept. 8, 2016. The spacecraft is on its way to an asteroid named Bennu to collect a sample and bring it back to earth.
Researchers say learning about Bennu is important as the asteroid could potentially impact earth.
Lead principal investigator Dante Lauretta said knowing more about the asteroid could be beneficial in case a future deflection mission is needed.
Lauretta, who is also a professor at the U of A, said the past two years have been successful. On its first birthday, OSIRIS-REx got a boost from the earth during a gravity assist.
The slingshot like maneuver allowed it to use Earth's gravity to gain momentum as it heads to Bennu.
Lauretta said researchers also celebrated a major milestone in mid-August.
"We got our very first image of the asteroid. This was a major event for the team. For the first time, light reflected off the surface of the asteroid and was collected in our cameras and we brought an image back down to the earth. It was only a single point, but it was still very symbolic, very exciting for the team," he said.
The mission is headquartered inside the Drake building near campus.
Right now, the countdown clock in the lobby is inching closer to arrival in December. That's when the spacecraft will give researchers a closer look as it spends an entire year investigating the asteroid.
Over the summer, OSIRIS-REx will collect the samples.
The spacecraft will then have to wait until the orbits of Bennu and Earth align so it can begin its two-year trip back home.
OSIRIS-REx and the samples expected on earth in 2023.