On Tuesday October 20, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission will gather a sample from the surface of an asteroid – a first in U.S. space exploration history!
The OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission is led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL); the spacecraft has been in proximity to the asteroid for quite some time, mapping the surface in great detail. Asteroid Bennu’s unexpectedly rocky surface made selection of a safe sample location difficult, but eventually 4 candidates were selected and a final site chosen. The spacecraft has done two test-runs of its sample collection maneuver in August, getting to within 131 ft (40 m) of the asteroid’s surface.
OSIRIS-REx has made several discoveries as it has surveyed the surface of asteroid Bennu – it saw particles being ejected from the asteroids surface.
OSIRIS-REx found carbon-bearing material and organic compounds on Bennu’s surface!
Pieces of asteroid Vesta, which suffered a massive impact in the distant past, may have been detected on the surface of Bennu!
University students and researchers noticed an x-ray outburst from a black hole while using instruments on OSIRIS-REx.
The sampling mechanism on OSIRIS-REx is designed to allow for three sample acquisition attempts; after a sample has been successfully collected, the spacecraft will return the sample to Earth, arriving in 2023.
OSIRIS-REx is one of several currently active sample return missions – JAXA’s HAYABUSA2 spacecraft is currently returning to Earth with a sample from asteroid Ryugu.
On a personal note: I’ve been an asteroid fanatic since 2012, and I’m an ambassador for NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission – I am ridiculously excited about this sample acquisition! I wish the spacecraft had some onboard sample analysis capability – having to wait till 2023 may drive me crazy! But I know, I know… adding that would greatly increase the mission’s complexity, launch weight, cost and pretty much everything else.