(ORDO NEWS) — After delays due to the coronavirus pandemic, NASA chose a date for its spacecraft to get a sample from the asteroid and then bring it home.
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is expected to complete its first attempt at sampling asteroids on October 20, 2020. The procedure was previously planned for August, but the mission team decided to postpone the maneuver due to restrictions that were supposed to slow the spread of the coronavirus disease COVID-19.
“The OSIRIS-REx mission demonstrates the very essence of the study, overcoming unexpected problems,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s deputy administrator for science. “This spirit has led us to the reward we are all waiting for – to take a sample from the asteroid to deliver it home to Earth, and I am very excited.”
OSIRIS-REx arrived on the asteroid Benna in December 2018 and spent the past months exploring the asteroid. In particular, OSIRIS-REx has focused on identifying potential sampling sites.
This process turned out to be more complex than expected, since the asteroid Bennu was much more complicated than scientists predicted at the launch of the mission, which could jeopardize the safety of the spacecraft during the procedure. As a result of the voting, four candidate places were selected for sampling, each of which was named after the bird.
In April, the spacecraft held a rehearsal of sampling, which included a slow approach to the surface of the asteroid to a height of only 65 meters. According to the mission team, this training maneuver went smoothly. However, the OSIRIS-REx staff decided that having more time to prepare for the second rehearsal and the sampling maneuver was very important, given how difficult cooperation had become during the pandemic.
The team postponed the sampling schedule for two months, the second rehearsal is scheduled for August 11, 2020, and the sampling is scheduled for October 20, 2020. The spaceship has compartments for storing up to three samples. If the first sampling procedure goes smoothly and fills these compartments, NASA will not be trying to collect additional samples.
In any case, the spacecraft will remain with the asteroid Bennu until the middle of next year, and then go on a two-year journey home. The OSIRIS-REx sample container will be delivered back to Earth on September 24, 2023.
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