NASA has released the first moving images of sampling on the surface of the asteroid Bennu. The sequence shows the field of view of the SamCam image generator were taken this October 20. The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has successfully achieved its goal of briefly touching the asteroid’s surface to collect dust and pebbles and bring them back to Earth in 2023.
This ancient well preserved asteroid, is currently 321 million kilometers from Earth. Bennu is going to offer scientists a window into the early solar system, as it was first taking shape billions of years ago and spewing ingredients that could have helped seed life on Earth.
The sampling event brought the spacecraft to the Nightingale sampling site, landing one meter from the target location. Preliminary data shows that the 30-centimeter wide sampling head touched the surface of Bennu for about 6 seconds, after which the spacecraft fired backward.
— NASA’s OSIRIS-REx (@OSIRISREx) October 20, 2020
The spacecraft’s sampling arm, called the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM), is visible in the bottom of the frame. The round head at the end of TAGSAM is the only part of OSIRIS-REx that came into contact with the surface during the sample collection event. In the middle of the image sequence, the sampling head is positioned to make frontal contact with the surface of the asteroid.
Preliminary data shows that the spacecraft spent approximately 5 of the 6 seconds of contact collecting material from the surface, and most of the sample collection occurred within the first 3 seconds.
If the sample collection event on October 20 provided enough material, the mission teams will order the spacecraft to begin stowing the primal cargo to begin his return trip to Earth in March 2021. If not, they will prepare for another attempt in January.