OSIRIS-REx Fires Thrusters For First Time

Artist’s conception of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft in cruise configuration. Image Credit: University of Arizona/Heather Roper

Artist’s conception of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft in cruise configuration. Image Credit: University of Arizona/Heather Roper

October 7, 2016 – NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft fired its Trajectory Correction Maneuver (TCM) thrusters for the first time Friday in order to slightly adjust its trajectory on the outbound journey from Earth to the asteroid Bennu. The spacecraft’s planned first Trajectory Correction Maneuver (TCM-1) began at 11 a.m. MDT and lasted for approximately 12 seconds. The maneuver changed the velocity of the spacecraft by 1.1 mile per hour (50 centimeters per second) and used approximately 18 ounces (.5 kilogram) of fuel. The spacecraft is currently about 9 million miles (14.5 million kilometers) from Earth.

TCM-1 was originally included in the spacecraft’s flight plan to fine-tune its trajectory if needed after the mission’s September 8 launch. The ULA Atlas V’s launch performance was so accurate, however, that the spacecraft’s orbit had no practical need for correction. Instead, the OSIRIS-REx mission team used the October 7 maneuver to test the TCM thrusters and as practice to prepare for a much larger propulsive maneuver scheduled in December.

The mission had allocated approximately 388 ounces (11 kilograms) of propellant for TCM-1 to create a velocity change of up to 26 miles per hour (11.6 meters per second), had it been necessary. The unused propellant from this event provides more fuel margin for the spacecraft’s asteroid proximity operations once OSIRIS-REx arrives at Bennu.

To track today’s maneuver, the OSIRIS-REx mission’s navigation team monitored the Doppler shift in radio signals between the spacecraft and the Deep Space Network antenna at the Goldstone Observatory in California. After 44 seconds—the current one-way light time delay between the spacecraft and Earth—the team received the first maneuver data from the spacecraft. Over the next week, the navigation team will process daily spacecraft tracking data to determine the precise effect of the burn.

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has four different kinds of thrusters providing considerable redundancy in its ability to maneuver on its way to the surface of Bennu and back. OSIRIS-REx began using its Attitude Control System (ACS) thrusters shortly after launch to keep the spacecraft oriented, so that its solar arrays point toward the sun and its communication antennas point toward Earth. Today was the first use of its larger Trajectory Correction Maneuver (TCM) thrusters. In December OSIRIS-REx will use its largest thrusters, the Main Engine (ME) thrusters, to target the spacecraft for its Earth Gravity Assist scheduled for September 22, 2017. Its smallest thrusters, the Low Thrust Reaction Engine Assembly (LTR) thrusters, will be used for the delicate maneuvers close to the surface of the asteroid Bennu.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center provides overall mission management, systems engineering and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is the principal investigator, and the University of Arizona also leads the science team and the mission’s observation planning and processing. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver built the spacecraft and is providing spacecraft flight operations. Goddard and KinetX Aerospace are responsible for navigating the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the agency’s New Frontiers Program for its Science Mission Directorate in Washington.