After more than a decade of work, the University of Arizona-led OSIRIS-REx mission will swipe a sample from the Nightingale sample site on asteroid Bennu’s rocky surface Oct. 20.
OSIRIS-REx has three major partners: Lockheed Martin, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and the University of Arizona.
The Touch-and-Go, or TAG, sample collection in October was originally planned for late August. The new date gives the team more time to assess Bennu’s unexpectedly rugged terrain and to adjust to disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“From the project’s inception, the team, including principal investigator Dante Lauretta, laid out a methodical schedule to accommodate unexpected events along the way,” says Heather Enos, deputy principal investigator for the OSIRIS-REx mission. “Such a long mission means there’s more opportunity to experience the unexpected. We planned for it. I’m in awe of how adaptable this team is.”
The new schedule includes a second rehearsal on Aug. 1 as well as extra time between the second rehearsal and sample collection. “We want to provide the team more time to see if there’s anything we can to do improve the mission’s probability of success,” Enos says.
“We were expecting a 25-meter [about 80-foot] target radius, but we quickly learned that Bennu’s rocky surface would only allow for two to four meters [less than 14 feet] to work with.”
The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft arrived at the asteroid Bennu in December 2018. Since then, it has been surveying and studying the asteroid from orbit. The mission is scheduled to leave Bennu in March 2021 and return to Earth Sept. 24, 2023.