How to watch NASA spacecraft attempt to collect sample from asteroid Bennu’s surface

Abbianca Makoni
·2-min read

On Tuesday Nasa will broadcast one of its spacecrafts attempting to collect asteroid samples to study back on Earth.

The journey, which has only been achieved by Japan so far, will unfold on Nasa Television and the agency’s website.

The Osiris-Rex mission aims to bring back 60 grams from the asteroid Bennu, which is about 200 million miles from Earth.

The spacecraft, which is the size of a van, will first manoeuvre down to the primary site Nightingale on Bennu’s surface to collect the sample.

Bennu, a 78 billion kilogram asteroid, has been captured by Nasa (PA)
Bennu, a 78 billion kilogram asteroid, has been captured by Nasa (PA)

Contact should last five to 10 seconds - just long enough to release pressurised nitrogen gas and take in the churned dirt and gravel.

If the first attempt does not work, Osiris-Rex can try again.

While the agency has in the past brought back comet dust and solar wind particles, this is the first time it is attempting to sample an asteroid.

Roger Harris, who served as Project Manager for Osiris-Rex, said: “Since Bennu is so far away, the operators on the ground will issue instructions to the software, and then it will autonomously approach Bennu and extend its robotic arm, called the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM)."

He added: “The solar panels will pull back safely away so they can’t touch Bennu’s surface, and the Natural Feature Tracking system will enable the spacecraft to pull back before the spacecraft is in danger of colliding with a hazardous area of the “Nightingale” landing site, which while our best option for gather surface material, is surrounded by massive mission-ending boulders.”

How to watch the broadcast?

Live coverage of the spacecraft’s touch and go maneuver will be begin at 9pm GMT on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

The full sequence of the engineering feat will also be covered on OSIRISREX Twitter page where journalist's and the general public can ask questions using the hashtag #ToBennuandBack.