NASA Prepares to Collect Samples from the Asteroid Bennu

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NASA has been hard at work on a wealth of missions in recent times, and a new milestone has been completed. The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft performed the first practice run of the sample collection sequence, diving to an altitude of approximately 75 meters over the Nightingale site before it employed a back-away burn.

Nightingale is the primary sample collection site located on the Bennu asteroid. The Checkpoint reversal mission involved two of the four maneuvers that are needed for the sampling mission and lasted for four hours. At this stage, the engineers evaluated the obit departure burn and the checkpoint burn.

The Checkpoint name is derived from the location where the spacecraft will assert its position and speed automatically before the trajectory is altered for the third maneuver.

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx gets ready to collect samples from the Asteroid Bennu

After four hours since the spacecraft left the secure home orbit, the Checkpoint maneuver took place at an altitude of 410 (or125 meters) above the surface of the asteroid. The descent continued for nine minutes, but it was stopped before the point needed for the Matchpoint maneuver was reached. A back-away burn allowed OSIRIS-REx to complete the rehearsal.

The main tool carried by the spacecraft, the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism, was deployed without problems during the rehearsal. Under close supervision, the arm was extended from its folded position into the sample gathering position. Some of the instruments which are also present aboard the spacecraft have collected data and image related to the site.

A major goal of the rehearsal mission was the practice of the maneuvers required to leave the orbit and achieve a strategic position while also favoring tests related to the tools which are mounted on the spacecraft. It was also shown that the Natural Feature Tracking guidance system is quite accurate as it tracked the position and speed of the spacecraft. The first sample collection attempt will take place in August 2020.