Asteroid BENNU get’s TAGGED by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx

UPDATE 10/23/2020: Thomas Zurbuchen – Associate Administrator, NASA Science Mission Directorate says “OSIRIS-REx collected a lot more of Asteroid Bennu’s surface than expected. So much so, that some is escaping from the sampler head. In order to protect what was collected, the mission is considering expediting stowing of the sample.” The team is now focused on stowing the sample for return to Earth in 2023.

Debris from OSIRIS-REx of BENNU floating into space from  the Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism | image: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

UPDATE 10/22/2020: First ever seen footage of OSIRIS-REx “booping” BENNU. (story below)

Boop of BENNU, by OSIRIS-REx | images: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

Space Coast, FL – Yesterday, a long four year mission of OSIRIS-REx (Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer) is almost complete. The spacecraft completed it’s TAG (Touch-And-Go) objective.

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx illustration over Asteroid Bennu | image: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft

Built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company.

  • Spacecraft specifications:
  • Length: 20.25 feet (6.2 meters) with solar arrays deployed
  • Width: 8 feet (2.43 meters) x 8 feet (2.43 meters)
  • Height: 10.33 feet (3.15 meters)
  • TAGSAM Length: 11 feet (3.35 meters)
  • Dry Mass (unfueled): 1,940 pounds (880 kilograms)
  • Wet Mass (fueled): 4,650 pounds (2,110 kilograms)
  • Power: Two solar panels generate between 1,226 watts and 3,000 watts, depending on the spacecraft’s distance from the sun

The Descent

At 1350 EDT, OSIRIS-REx fired its thrusters to nudge itself out of orbit around Bennu. It extended its 11-foot (3.35-meter) sampling arm, known as the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM), and transited across Bennu. All while descending about a half-mile (805 meters) toward the surface. After a four-hour descent, the spacecraft executed the “Checkpoint” burn, the first of two maneuvers to allow it to precisely target the sample collection site, known as “Nightingale.”

Ten minutes later, the spacecraft fired its thrusters for the second “Matchpoint” burn to slow its descent. This matched the asteroid’s rotation at time of contact. It then continued a treacherous, 11-minute coast past a boulder the size of a two-story building, nicknamed “Mount Doom,” to touch down in a clear spot in a crater on Bennu’s northern hemisphere. The size of a small parking lot, the site Nightingale is one of the few relatively clear spots.

All spacecraft telemetry data indicates the TAG event executed as expected. However, it will take about a week for the OSIRIS-REx team to confirm how much sample the spacecraft collected.

Watch the video of this amazing mission here.

If teams discover that the spacecraft collected enough samples from BENNU, they will then send orders for OSIRIS-REx to return to Earth. The ETA of return is, September 24, 2023. However, if the teams decide more sampling is required the next attempt to TAG BENNU will be on on January 12, 2021 and at the back up site “Osprey”.

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Jon Van Horne
Jon Van Horne

He began his career in media as a multimedia designer and developer in Montreal, Quebec. He developed a passion for media during his job in Photography and Video at a Montreal media content company. Other passions in media, photography/videography and soon going back to school in engineering.

reference: NASA