Feb 4, 2019 | By Cameron

In 2013, the shape model of an asteroid was created using data from ground-based telescopes and radar observations from Arecibo Observatory and Goldstone tracking station. That asteroid is Bennu and it’s currently about 70 million miles away, positioned between the orbits of Earth and Mars. That 2013 shape model set the stage for the OSIRIS-REx mission that launched two years ago; the spacecraft reached Bennu in December and has been orbiting the 1,650-foot-diameter carbonaceous asteroid and collecting data for over a month.

OSIRIS-REx is NASA’s first asteroid-sampling mission and it launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida on an Atlas V rocket on September 8, 2016. Bennu is the smallest celestial object to be orbited by a man-made spacecraft and it’s orbiting the Sun at approximately 63,000 mph, so the OSIRIS-REx had to gain speed by orbiting the Sun for a year before briefly entering Earth’s orbit for a gravity-assisted toss to catch up to Bennu. NASA has released many high-resolution images of the surface of the diamond-shaped asteroid since the rendezvous, but now they’ve released 3D printable OBJ and STL files of the 2013 ground-based shape model and the 2018 shape model created from data collected by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft.

“As it turns out, the original 2013 model closely predicted the asteroid’s actual shape, with Bennu’s diameter, rotation rate, inclination, and overall shape presented almost exactly as projected,” the NASA site states. The major difference between the models is that the 2018 version includes more topographical detail down to six meters.

OSIRIS-REx mission objectives include returning and analyzing a sample of Bennu’s surface, documenting the sample site, mapping the asteroid, and measuring the orbit deviation caused by non-gravitational forces (the Yarkovsky effect). A sampling arm will touch the surface of Bennu for five seconds as part of the Touch-And-Go (TAG) sampling maneuver, releasing a burst of nitrogen to stir up loose rocks and surface material into the sampler head. The spacecraft can obtain up to 2 kilograms of material and is capable of making three sampling attempts. The sample is expected to parachute into the Utah desert on Sept. 24, 2023, concluding a seven-year journey.

The purpose of the mission is multifaceted. For one, the regolith (surface material) may reveal the early history of our solar system as well as contain the molecular precursors that led to the formation of life in Earth’s oceans. But there is another reason to study Bennu and that’s the high probability that it will collide with Earth in the 22nd century. By analyzing its physical and chemical properties now, scientists can perhaps mitigate some of the damage of an impact in the future. The final incentive to explore the space rock is its cache of valuable resources such as water, organics, and precious metals. Ideally, those materials will be mined to provide fuel and materials for further space exploration and settlements.

NASA is fond of 3D printing and optimistic about its use in the future of space exploration. They’ve run various 3D printing tests on the International Space Station and plan to 3D print habitats on Mars. It’s nice of NASA to allow anyone to 3D print a piece of history with their Bennu models.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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