When the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security–Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft collected a sample of surface material from asteroid Bennu in 2020 October, it was the first time that an autonomous optical navigation system relying on natural terrain features had been used to guide a spacecraft to a planetary surface. This system, called Natural Feature Tracking (NFT), works by rendering features from digital terrain models and then correlating them with the terrain in real-time navigation images to estimate the spacecraft's position and velocity with respect to the asteroid. Here we describe how the OSIRIS-REx mission built the catalog of features for NFT and how those features performed during rehearsals for and execution of the Touch-and-Go (TAG) sample collection event. Feature performance (quality and accuracy of match) in the rendering and correlation process is the basis of the NFT measurement. All features scored well above the minimum correlation threshold thanks to the effort invested in selecting and modeling them. Residuals across the TAG trajectory were small, indicating that features in the catalog were defined consistently relative to each other. NFT delivered the spacecraft to within 1 m of the targeted location, with a difference of only 3.5 cm and 1.4 s from the predicted location and time of touch. This exceptional performance was crucial for spacecraft safety given Bennu's rough and hazardous terrain.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Astronomy and Astrophysics
- Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
- Space and Planetary Science