Tempe-based KinetX helps explain rocks exploding from Asteroid Bennu

Above: This is an artist's concept of the impact that created the asteroid Bennu. Scientists think Bennu formed when some of the rubble from a collision like this coalesced under its own gravity. (Photo courtesy of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab) Aerospace | 9 Dec, 2019 |

Carrying out a precise navigation operation involving images of newly discovered particles being ejected from the surface of the active asteroid (101955) Bennu, the KinetX Aerospace Space Navigation and Flight Dynamics Optical Navigation Team is providing critical results to NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Science Team that are used for understanding and explaining the underlying mechanism(s) of the ejecta.  The mission and science team are led by OSIRIS-REx Principal Investigator Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona. The results of this collaboration are published in the Science article entitled “Episodes of particle ejection from the surface of the active asteroid (101955) Bennu” released Dec 6, 2019. 

Coralie Adam leads the KinetX Space Navigation and Flight Dynamics Optical Navigation Team.

In response to the discovery in January 2019 of particles ejecting from the surface of asteroid (101955) Bennu by OSIRIS-REx, the KinetX navigation team reconstructed the ejected particles’ trajectories to help characterize these unexpected events.  The image processing optical navigation software suite, developed by KinetX, was utilized in combination with both traditional orbit determination techniques and new techniques developed specifically for analyzing these events when there was not enough data for traditional orbit determination. This led to the estimation of properties such as the ejection locations on the surface of the asteroid and the particle ejection velocities. 

“Use of the KinetX optical navigation tools and techniques highlights how our corporate capabilities and intellectual property are applied to a diversity of applications,” said Coralie Adam, a co-author who leads the KinetX Space Navigation and Flight Dynamics Optical Navigation Team.  “KinetX made a large contribution to this research and publication by producing estimates of ejection locations on the surface of the asteroid and of the particle ejection velocities,” added John Pelgrift, also a co-author and one of the analysts on the KinetX Optical Navigation Team.           

Working with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, KinetX is also the lead organization responsible for navigating the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft built and operated by Lockheed Martin Space. OSIRIS-Rex is the first NASA spacecraft with a mission of obtaining a sample from the surface of an asteroid and returning it to Earth.  Since its launch on September 8, 2016, KinetX has navigated OSIRIS-Rex to Bennu and placed the spacecraft into various orbits about the asteroid. Once samples are obtained, KinetX will navigate the spacecraft’s return to Earth. KinetX is the only non-government group to lead a deep space navigation effort with NASA, and has proven its ability to provide customers with high quality mission design and navigation, from pre-launch planning through orbit operations to mission end-of-life procedures, working closely with other mission teams.

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