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SBAG advises NASA to explore asteroid Apophis before its close flyby of Earth in 2029

The Small Bodies Assessment Group (SBAG) of NASA has urged the space agency to launch a spacecraft with the sole mission of exploring Apophis before its anticipated close flyby of Earth in 2029. 

The community-based advisory group shared this in its 10-point report published online. SBAG considers this a ‘’unique and rare close approach opportunity’’, while hinting at the return of the OSIRIS-REx to Earth on September 24th, 2023.

Why send a mission to Apophis?

‘’The mission effort should focus on exploring the asteroid Apophis prior to its close flyby of the Earth in 2029, leveraging the natural laboratory experiment afforded by this unique and rare close approach opportunity, to complement the data to be collected by the OSIRIS-APEX spacecraft after Apophis’ close flyby of the Earth.’’

SBAG ‘’encourages NASA to pursue a mission opportunity, achievable within available resources, to explore Apophis prior to its close Earth approach, whether initiating its own effort or via collaboration with foreign and domestic partners.’’

Perfect complement to OSIRIS-REx mission

OSIRIS-REx landed on Bennu in October 2020 to collect a sample, four years after its launch in 2016. The spacecraft will become known as OSIRIS Apophis Explorer (OSIRIS-APEX) when it starts a mission to study the asteroid.

The body believes ‘’the collected data will provide a complete investigation of this remarkable opportunity to quantify and understand in real time the consequences of planetary tides on the evolution of asteroids and glean important information on Apophis’ interior structure, which is otherwise unobtainable.’’

International year of planetary defense

SBAG also prompted NASA and the international planetary defense community to work with the United Nations and adopt 2029 as the International Year of Planetary Defense. 

Asteroid Apophis, also known as 99942 Apophis, was previously identified with a 2.7% probability of hitting the Earth in April 2029. With its estimated 1,100 feet (340 metres), the near-Earth object had raised concerns of possible threat to the planet. 

However, astronomers used radar observations to precisely estimate its orbit around the sun during the distant flyby of Earth in March 2021. They were able to discard collision risk in 2068 and beyond.

99942 Apophis was discovered in 2004 by Roy Tucker, David Tholen, and Fabrizio Bernardi at the Kitt Peak National Observatory.

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