NASA’s asteroid-sampling spacecraft Osiris-Rex will go look at ‘the mess it made’

The moment Osiris-Rex touched Bennu’s surface.

NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

In October 2020, NASA’s Osiris-Rex spacecraft took a bite out of asteroid Bennu. Before Osiris-Rex returns to Earth to deliver its bounty, it’s going to revisit the scene of the heist.The asteroid-investigating spacecraft will perform one final very close flyby of Bennu on Wednesday to discover “the extent of the mess it made,” NASA announced last week.  

Osiris-Rex was a little greedy during the sample capture operation, picking up an overflowing amount of gravel that had to be stowed sooner than expected. It left a mark on the asteroid.

“The Osiris-Rex team decided to add this last flyover after Bennu’s surface was significantly disturbed by the sample collection event,” NASA said. “During touchdown, the spacecraft’s sampling head sunk 1.6 feet (48.8 centimeters) into the asteroid’s surface and simultaneously fired a pressurized charge of nitrogen gas.” The thrusters fired to back Osiris-Rex away also disturbed the surface.

NASA has scheduled the flyover for April 7 with the goal of capturing images of the collection site from a close distance of just 2.3 miles (3.7 kilometers) away.

Osiris-Rex will continue to hang around at Bennu until May 10, when it will kick off a two-year return journey back to Earth. The bits of Bennu will be delivered to scientists by way of a Sample Return Capsule jettisoned by the spacecraft. 

In the meantime, NASA will get to compare the before-and-after images of the sample site to see just how big of a tattoo Osiris-Rex left on Bennu.

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