NASA OSIRIS-REx spacecraft successfully tests arm in space

NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has successfully extended its robotic sampling arm in space. This is the first time the arm was extended after deployment, indicating that its planned future mission to retrieve an asteroid sample will go according to plan. According to the space agency, the arm completed a series of motions as part of the test.

NASA previously referred to the spacecraft's arm as the Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism, also known as TAGSAM. This was the first time the mechanism was stretched out in space, the agency explains, completing one of the key aspects of its future mission.

In 2023, NASA wants its OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to return a sample acquired from the asteroid Bennu. This is the mission's primary goal, the end result hopefully being a sample delivered back to scientists on Earth. OSIRIS-REx was designed and built by Lockheed Martin over the course of more than a decade.

According to NASA, Lockheed Martin's own engineers were behind the recent arm test, which involved having the mechanism move through its full range of motion; the unit features "joints" comprised of a wrist, elbow, and shoulder. The team confirmed the successful completion using telemetry data and images.

NASA refers to this test as a rehearsal; the next arm movement will take place in mid-2020 when TAGSAM will extend to touch the asteroid's surface. Scientists expect the spacecraft to capture at least 60 grams of material from the space rock, which is a little over two ounces.

The spacecraft will arrive at Bennu asteroid on December 3; around one year of surveying will take place upon its arrival, this involving five different scientific instruments. The data will help the team determine where the sample should be collected from the asteroid.