NASA Shares Photos From Its Spacecraft’s “Touch-And-Go” With Asteroid 200 Million Miles Away

NASA Shares Photos From Its Spacecraft’s “Touch-And-Go” With Asteroid 200 Million Miles Away

NASA has just released the first batch of images from OSIRIS-REx, showing an explosive impact on the potentially hazardous asteroid known as Bennu.


The well-preserved ancient asteroid is currently more than 200 million miles (321 million kilometers) from Earth. Bennu offers scientists a window into the early solar system as it was first taking shape billions of years ago and flinging ingredients that could have helped seed life on Earth. If Tuesday’s sample collection event, known as “Touch-And-Go” (TAG), provided enough of a sample, mission teams will command the spacecraft to begin stowing the precious primordial cargo to begin its journey back to Earth in March 2021. Otherwise, they will prepare for another attempt in January.


On Tuesday, October 20th, NASA made history



Image credits: NASA Video


While researchers still need time to figure out how much material the spacecraft’s sampling arm – called the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) – has collected, they are overjoyed that everything went according to plan.


The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft successfully completed a “touch-and-go” sample collection maneuver on an asteroid over 200 million miles away from Earth



Image credits: NASA Video


These images were captured over approximately a five-minute period



Image credits: NASA Video


“Today’s TAG maneuver was historic,” Lori Glaze, Planetary Science Division director at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said in a statement. “The fact that we safely and successfully touched the surface of Bennu, in addition to all the other milestones this mission has already achieved, is a testament to the living spirit of exploration that continues to uncover the secrets of the solar system.”



Image credits: NASA Video


Real-time data indicates the TAGSAM successfully contacted the surface and fired a burst of nitrogen gas which should have stirred up dust and pebbles on Bennu’s surface, some of which should have been captured in the TAGSAM sample collection head. OSIRIS-REx engineers also confirmed that shortly after the spacecraft made contact with the surface, it fired its thrusters and safely backed away from Bennu.



Image credits: NASA Video


The spacecraft carried out TAG autonomously, with pre-programmed instructions from engineers on Earth. But even though all of its telemetry data indicates the TAG event executed as expected, it will still take about a week for the OSIRIS-REx team to confirm how many samples the spacecraft collected.



Image credits: NASA Video


The goal is at least 60 grams, which is roughly equivalent to a full-size candy bar.


Preliminary data shows the one-foot-wide (0.3-meter-wide) sampling head touched Bennu’s surface for approximately 6 seconds, after which the spacecraft performed a back-away burn.


But researchers will also attempt to measure the mass of the sample collected by determining the change in the spacecraft’s “moment of inertia,” something that describes how mass is distributed and how it affects the rotation of the body around a central axis.



Image credits: NASA Video



Image credits: NASA Video



Image credits: NASA Video



Image credits: NASA Video



Image credits: NASA Video



Image credits: NASA Video



Image credits: NASA Video


Preliminary data shows the spacecraft spent approximately 5 of the 6 seconds of contact collecting surface material



Image credits: NASA Goddard


The spacecraft was traveling at 0.2 mph (10 cm/sec) when it contacted the sample site and then backed away at 0.9 mph (40 cm/sec)



Image credits: NASA Goddard


Researchers still need time to figure out if the spacecraft’s sampling arm has collected enough material



Image credits: NASA Goddard


But they are overjoyed that everything went according to plan



Image credits: NASA Goddard


Here’s what people have been saying about the mission