NASA's asteroid-chasing spacecraft caught up Monday to its object of study, the asteroid Bennu, more than two years after launching from Florida's Space Coast.
The spacecraft, which launched Sept. 8, 2016, atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, has been approaching the space rock ever since.
The mission -- which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer -- will be NASA's first asteroid sample return mission.
Over the next year, OSIRIS-REx will study the asteroid using five scientific instruments onboard the spacecraft. The instruments will help it determine a safe location from which to collect a small sample from Bennu's surface that will be returned to Earth in September 2023.
Scientists hope to use the sample to understand more about near-Earth asteroids that could impact our planet, and also how planets formed and life began.
Follow live updates on the mission below:
The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft’s PolyCam camera obtained 36 2.2-millisecond frames over a period of four hours and 18 minutes to create the series of images below taken from 50 miles away.
Using its suite of instruments the spacecraft and its team will create a series of maps of the asteroid to determine where to collect a sample more than a year from now.
The robotic explorer pulled within 12 miles of the diamond-shaped space rock Monday. It will get even closer in the days ahead and go into orbit around Bennu on Dec. 31.
NASA's spacecraft has arrived 12 miles from the surface of asteroid Bennu were it will spend a year mapping and studying the space rock before selecting a site to collect a sample to return to Earth.
"We have arrived," Lockheed Martin communications system engineer Javier Cerna announced to a round of applause.
Achievement unlocked: "We have arrived!" Our @OSIRISREx mission reached asteroid Bennu, where it will spend almost a year mapping and studying to find a safe location to collect a sample. Watch: https://t.co/zI282xjLzc pic.twitter.com/VMPs7SIfSf— NASA (@NASA) December 3, 2018
OSIRIS-REx has been closing the distance to Bennu at an average of 4.4 miles per day before its final approach it will fire its thrusters for a small burn to keep it at the asteroid for the rest of its mission.
Mission control at Lockheed Martin's space facility in Littleton, Colorado, the company that built the spacecraft, is closely monitoring the spacecraft's approach.
When the spacecraft arrives, it will be 12 miles from the asteroid.
Principal Investigator Dante Lauretta said the spacecraft will spend the next year mapping the asteroid to select the sample site. Then OSIRIS-REx will perform low-altitude flyovers of the site, before collecting a sample in July 2020.