Watch the moment OSIRIS-REx tagged an asteroid to collect samples
On Tuesday this week, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft briefly touched down on the surface of asteroid Bennu to snatch a sample of the ancient pristine rock, and took off again. And now NASA has released images and video from the robot’s perspective.
OSIRIS-REx has been orbiting Bennu for two years now, studying the rock intently to calculate how and where to swoop down and scoop up a sample of material. And on October 20 it was finally go-time, with the history-making event streamed live on NASA’s YouTube channel.
But there were no live images or video available at the time. Bennu is more than 200 million miles (321 million km) from Earth, so communications take 18 minutes to travel each way – and then there’s the processing time to account for.
A day later and they’re finally here. NASA has released a series of 82 images captured by the camera on OSIRIS-REx’s sampling arm. The sequence begins when the spacecraft is just 82 ft (25 m) above the rocky surface, and clearly shows the sampling arm approach and touchdown on Bennu. OSIRIS-REx made contact for a total of six seconds.
Just one second after touching down, the craft fired a blast of nitrogen gas to dislodge the rubble, making it easier to collect a sample. At this point in the video a cloud of dust obscures the camera’s view for a moment, and by the time we can finally make out what’s happening again OSIRIS-REx is moving away from Bennu once more, having fired its thrusters to push off from the surface.
Telemetry data shows that OSIRIS-REx was traveling at just 0.2 mph (10 cm/sec) when it made contact with Bennu, then backed away at a speed of 0.9 mph (40 cm/sec). All up, the mission appears to have been successful – although NASA says it will take up to a week for the science team to confirm just how big a sample the craft managed to collect.
If it hasn't collected at least 2.1 oz (60 g), OSIRIS-REx will need to perform another trip to the surface of Bennu – but that will take months more calculations and maneuvering. Once it has the required amount, the craft is due to leave the orbit of Bennu in March 2021 and begin its long journey back to Earth, where it will arrive in September 2023 with a sample of material untouched since the dawn of the solar system.