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NASA's spacecraft recently reached the most distant object known in our solar system. Well, the space agency has broken another record on the last day of the year 2018. Its OSIRIS-REx spacecraft managed to enter asteroid Bennu's orbit, making the asteroid the smallest object orbited by a spacecraft till date.
The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft "carried out a single, eight-second burn of its thrusters" to smash the previous space exploration record, according to NASA. The space agency says there's a possibility that the Bennu asteroid could collide with Earth in September 2135, destroying living beings in the process. The OSIRIS-REx made a fly by the Bennu asteroid in December to prepare the spacecraft for orbit.
"The team continued our long string of successes by executing the orbit-insertion maneuver perfectly," said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, in a news release. "With the navigation campaign coming to an end, we are looking forward to the scientific mapping and sample site selection phase of the mission."
The spacecraft will circle the asteroid about a mile from its center which is closer than any other spacecraft has reached an object of study in space. The close distance is necessary to keep the spacecraft "locked" to Bennu that only has a gravitational force on only 5-millionths as strong as our planet's gravitational pull. The spacecraft will be orbiting the asteroid till mid-February at 62 hours per orbit.
"Our orbit design is highly dependent on Bennu's physical properties, such as its mass and gravity field, which we didn't know before we arrived," said OSIRIS-REx's flight dynamics system manager Mike Moreau, in a news release.