The Use of Digital Terrain Models for Natural Feature Tracking at Asteroid Bennu

R. D. Olds, C. J. Miller, C. D. Norman, C. E. Mario, K. Berry, E. Palmer, O. S. Barnouin, M. G. Daly, J. R. Weirich, J. A. Seabrook, C. A. Bennett, D. Lorenz, B. Rizk, B. J. Bos, D. S. Lauretta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security–Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission rendezvoused with asteroid (101955) Bennu in 2018 with the primary objective of collecting a sample of regolith from the surface. As the first NASA asteroid sample return mission, OSIRIS-REx deployed several new technologies to achieve program objectives. Here we present an overview of Natural Feature Tracking (NFT), a system developed to autonomously guide the spacecraft to the desired sampling site using optical navigation and the natural terrain on the surface of Bennu. NFT utilized a series of image-based digital terrain models (DTMs) constructed by means of stereophotoclinometry to represent patches on the surface of the asteroid. These DTMs were used to generate synthetic renderings of the terrain and identify features for use in navigating to the sampling location. In addition, high-resolution models of the sampling site constructed from scanning lidar data were used for predicting the time and location of contact with the surface. These models went through a series of validation tests to ensure the performance of the NFT system. When the spacecraft executed the sampling trajectory in 2020 October, NFT enabled real-time guidance updates that delivered it safely to the desired sampling location while also providing critical hazard avoidance capabilities in the rocky Bennu environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number100
JournalPlanetary Science Journal
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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