NASA's asteroid chaser swings by Earth on way to space rock

This artist's concept shows the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft passing by Earth. (Photo: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/University of Arizona)
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NASA's asteroid-chasing spacecraft is swinging by Earth on its way to a space rock.

Launched a year ago, Osiris-Rex will pass within about 11,000 miles (17,700 kilometers) of the home planet Friday afternoon. It will use Earth's gravity as a slingshot to put it on a path toward the asteroid Bennu.

If all goes well, Osiris-Rex should reach the small, roundish asteroid next year and, in 2020, collect some of its gravel for return to Earth.

Friday's close approach will occur over Antarctica. It will be a quick hello: The spacecraft will speed by at about 19,000 mph (31,000 kph). NASA has taken precautions to ensure Osiris-Rex does not slam into any satellites.

Ground telescopes, meanwhile, have been trying to observe the spacecraft while it's in the neighborhood.

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