NASA’s ambitious OSIRIS-REx mission, which aims to collect a physical sample from the asteroid Bennu, finally has a date for the first touchdown attempt. Later this year, according to the space agency, its OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will touchdown at a previously determined location, collect some sample materials from the asteroid’s surface, then return to space, eventually bringing that sample back to Earth.
Bennu is a big asteroid that was found to have a surprisingly rocky surface, adding an unexpected layer of complexity to the mission. OSIRIS-REx has sent back a number of images of the asteroid, ones captured as it neared the space rock and, eventually, entered into the closest-ever orbit performed.
The spacecraft has been orbiting Bennu since December 2018, gathering data that researchers have used to determine the best spot to collect the sample, as well as a few backup sites in case the first doesn’t work out. In April, NASA performed the first rehearsal for its planned sample collection attempt, something that brought OSIRIS-REx within nearly 200ft of the celestial body.
With all of that work out of the way, NASA says that it is ready to take the big leap and actually collect a sample from the asteroid’s surface. This first collection attempt is scheduled to take place on October 20. This date will give the team additional time to prepare, something NASA says is necessary in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact it has had on the agency.
Overall, the team will get an extra two months to prepare for the touchdown, including time for a final rehearsal before the big event; the original collection date had been planned for late August. The second rehearsal has been bumped from June to August 11. NASA is still targeting the previously announced Nightingale sample site.