A couple of days ago, NASA announced that its asteroid-sampling spacecraft OSIRIS-REx successfully collected samples from the surface of asteroid Bennu. NASA has now released a video collected from the SamCam imager board the spacecraft as OSIRIS-REx performed its Touch-And-Go (TAG) maneuver. The series of images in the video shows the spacecraft touchdown on the asteroid surface over 200 million miles away from Earth.
The sampling event saw the spacecraft touchdown at sampling site Nightingale landing within three feet of the targeted location. A successful sampling mission with such precision when so far from Earth is very impressive. Controllers on Earth received confirmation at 6:08 PM EDT on October 20 that the spacecraft had a successful touchdown.
Preliminary data shows that the one-foot-wide sampling arm touched Bennu’s surface for approximately six seconds before the spacecraft performed the back-away burn. In the images, the spacecraft’s sampling arm is visible in the lower part of the frame. The round head of that instrument is the only part of OSIRIS-REx that touched the asteroid’s surface.
When the sampling head touched the surface at Nightingale, it penetrated the regolith on the surface of the asteroid. It also appears that the sampling had crushed some of the porous rocks underneath it as it touched down. One second after touchdown, the spacecraft fired a nitrogen gas bottle that caused lots of material at the sample site to mobilize.
Preliminary data shows the spacecraft spent five of the six seconds of contact collecting surface material, and the majority of sample collection happened in the first three seconds. The sampling head is designed to catch agitated surface material. The OSIRIS-REx team will assess the amount of material collected using several spacecraft activities in the coming days. NASA says the spacecraft remains in good health and was traveling at 0.2 mph when it contacted the surface.