NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission is nearing its objective — the asteroid Bennu. The US probe will attempt its first asteroid sample collection next month.

After a four-year journey, NASA’s robotic spacecraft OSIRIS-REx will make its first attempt at collecting a sample of the asteroid Bennu’s rocks and dust.

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The spacecraft will try to descend to asteroid Bennu’s boulder-strewn surface on October 20. It will attempt a touchdown for a few seconds to collect rock and dust samples.

The mission aims to sample at least 60 grams (2.1 ounces) of material from the asteroid 101955 Bennu.

OSIRIS-REx stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer. If successful, it will be the first U.S. mission to return from space with samples of an asteroid.

The mission will help deepen our understanding of how planets formed and life began. It will also provide insight on asteroids that could impact Earth.

“Years of planning and hard work by this team are essentially coming down to putting the TAGSAM (Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism) into contact with the surface for just five to 10 seconds,” said Mike Moreau, OSIRIS-REx deputy project manager.

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NASA has chosen a spot some 16 meters (52 feet) in diameter called Nightingale as their landing and sampling spot. That’s because the site holds the greatest amount of unobstructed fine-grained material.

OSIRIS-REx is about the size of a large van, and it will attempt a touchdown in a sampling area that is about the size of a few parking spaces — 15 meters (52 feet) in diameter.

The spacecraft and Bennu will be approximately 207 million miles (334 million kilometers) from Earth. So it will take about 18.5 minutes for signals to travel between them.

This prevents the live commanding of flight activities, so the spacecraft will need to perform the sequence autonomously.

If the first Touch-And-Go (TAG) attempt in October does not collect enough material, OSIRIS-REx has enough nitrogen charges to power two more attempts.

The spacecraft will deliver the collected sample to Earth on September 24th, 2023. I know, that’s still two years away but the probe has already made useful discoveries. NASA has spotted water on the asteroid, and we now know that Bennu is spewing particles into space. The team has also produced some of the highest resolution images of a planetary body ever.

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