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January 24, 2022: "The Future of Asteroid Exploration and the Hayabusa2 and OSIRIS-REx Missions"


  • 4:00 p.m.
  • 300 Whittemore Hall 
  • Dr. Daniel J. Scheeres, The University of Colorado at Boulder
  • Faculty Host: Dr. Shane Ross

Abstract: The past few years have been marked by a number of significant advances in asteroid exploration. The Japanese Hayabusa2 spacecraft and NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft both carried out highly successful missions. The main goal of both of those missions was to collect samples from primitive asteroids and return them to Earth for further analysis. In order to place these valuable samples into appropriate context both missions also explored the physical and geophysical environment of these bodies. These missions mark an important step in humanity’s continued robotic exploration of asteroids — a larger endeavor motivated by the scientific study and exploration of the solar system and the protection of the Earth against future hazardous asteroid impactors.

To carry out such missions involves significant challenges for the dynamics and control of spacecraft. These challenges will be introduced during the talk. They have also motivated exciting new approaches to the design and operation of close proximity dynamics about such small solar system bodies. For example, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft at Bennu implemented an entirely new approach to orbital mechanics in the asteroid environment. In contrast, the Hayabusa2 mission used a close proximity operations strategy that involves the spacecraft nulling out the gravitational attraction of the asteroid to “hover” above the body.

The successful implementation of such close proximity operations has ushered in a new capability for the exploration of small solar system bodies. However, the approaches followed for both missions require significant interactions with the ground operations team. To enable more frequent, and lower cost, future missions there is strong interest to better understand and migrate key close proximity operations on-board the spacecraft where they can be executed autonomously. This is a topic of specific interest for NASA, and one that results from both of these missions can be leveraged for improving our future capability in this area.

This talk will discuss the technical challenges and state of the art of spacecraft operations in the asteroid environment. It will also give an overview of both the Hayabusa2 and OSIRIS-REx missions and discuss the extreme and exciting orbital dynamics environment in which these spacecraft are operating. We will also discuss future asteroid missions and areas of research that are motivated by these missions, both in pursuit of new scientific discoveries and of autonomous operations about solar system bodies. 

Bio: Daniel J. Scheeres is a University of Colorado Distinguished Professor and is the A. Richard Seebass Endowed Chair Professor in the Smead Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder.  He led the Radio Science experiment on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission and is a co-Investigator on the Japanese Hayabusa2 mission. Prior to coming to the University of Colorado in 2008, he held faculty positions in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Michigan and Iowa State University, and was a Senior Member of the Technical Staff in the Navigation Systems Section at the California Institute of Technology’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  He was awarded PhD. (1992), M.S.E. (1988) and B.S.E (1987) degrees in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Michigan, and holds a B.S. in Letters and Engineering from Calvin College (1985).  Scheeres is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, a member of the International Academy of Astronautics and a Fellow of both the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the American Astronautical Society.  He was awarded the Dirk Brouwer Award from the American Astronautical Society in 2013 and gave the John Breakwell Lecture at the 2011 International Astronautical Congress. Asteroid 8887 is named “Scheeres” in recognition of his contributions to the scientific understanding of the dynamical environment about asteroids.