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Watch as NASA samples an asteroid for the first time

Published Oct 21st, 2020 12:17AM EDT
nasa asteroid
Image: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/Lockheed Martin

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  • NASA is finally ready to command its OSIRIS-REx asteroid probe to grab a sample of the space rock Bennu.
  • The maneuver will be performed this evening, and NASA will live stream the operation.
  • Because of the distance from Earth, live streaming from the probe itself won’t be possible.

It’s been many months since NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid probe arrived at the massive space rock known as Bennu. In that time, the spacecraft has learned a lot about Bennu, and asteroids like it, but one very important goal remains: Collecting a sample of Bennu so that it can be brought back to Earth.

Now, after repeated trial runs and constant work on perfecting the maneuver that OSIRIS-REx will perform to collect the sample, NASA is ready to issue the command and let the spacecraft carry out the dangerous task. The best part? We’ll get live coverage of the event from NASA… well, sort of.

So, the thing you have to keep in mind about this asteroid sampling maneuver is that it’s being carried out on a delay. The spacecraft and asteroid are so far away from Earth right now that controlling the probe in real-time is absolutely out of the question. So, NASA has to plan for the maneuver ahead of time, tell the probe what to do, and then let it carry out the process while using its automated onboard systems to ensure that nothing goes wrong.

Because of that, we obviously can’t have a live video feed of what is going on, but we can get updates as they come in thanks to NASA. NASA plans to provide updates of the spacecraft’s status during the “Touch-And-Go” (TAG) operation starting this evening at approximately 5 p.m. EDT, while the actual sample collection attempt won’t take place until 6:12 p.m. In the meantime, NASA will be providing a wealth of information about the mission, the achievements OSIRIS-REx has already tallied, and what the future holds for the spacecraft and the asteroid itself.

Here is NASA’s full schedule of video for today, all times being EDT:

1:20 to 6:30 p.m. – Live stream animation displaying OSIRIS-REx’s sample collection activities in real time. The animation commences with the spacecraft’s slew into position for the Orbit Departure Maneuver and runs through the entire sequence of TAG events, concluding after the spacecraft’s back-away burn. Event will be broadcast on the mission’s website.

5 to 6:30 p.m. – Live broadcast from Lockheed Martin of OSIRIS-REx’s descent to the surface of Bennu and attempt at sample collection.

Hosted by Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, and Michelle Thaller, science communicator at Goddard, the broadcast will cover milestones in the last 90 minutes leading up to TAG and spacecraft back-away. It will include perspectives from team members and science leaders about the mission’s challenges and accomplishments.

A clean feed of the Mission Support Area during TAG is planned to run on NASA’s media channel.

Tomorrow, NASA will host a “post-sampling news conference” to release new images and data about the sample collection, which should be just as exciting.