After the successful retrieval of asteroid samples in October, the OSIRIS-Rex is considering sending a probe to study another space rock, Apophis, in 2029.
If everything goes according to plan, the probe will reach Apophis in April 2029, merely a week after the space rock approaches dangerously close to Earth, within a distance of around 31,900 kilometers from the Earth’s surface. While scientists are positive that the asteroid will not crash into our planet, Apophis still has a reputation and makes it a valuable candidate for research. The fact that the OSIRIS-Rex could make a prolonged stop at Apophis comes as a welcome surprise for the team as placing the spacecraft into orbit around a near-Earth asteroid the size of Apophis would present a variety of data and opportunity to better understand its current condition and capabilities.
The primary objective and priority of the OSIRIS-Rex mission is to gather and deliver samples from the Bennu asteroid for analysis to laboratories on Earth. The team has confirmed that the mission is progressing smoothly following the successful retrieval of rock samples in October 2020. The probe will lift off from Bennu this year and arrive two years later in September 2023. Similar to the process followed by the Japanese spacecraft, Hayabusa2, which brought back samples from the Ryugu asteroid, the OSIRIS-Rex mission also involves returning a small capsule to Earth, detaching from the main spacecraft. The latter will continue to explore other destinations. The team is expected to propose an extended mission to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 2022. A fly-by of Apophis could be part of this extended mission and is currently the only target found by engineers.
The team concluded that they currently do not have a solution to achieve a close brush with another space rock, and the Apophis' close approach to Earth in 2029 has allowed them to even plan out this mission.