Skip to main content

How to watch NASA grab a sample from an asteroid on Tuesday

NASA Live: Official Stream of NASA TV

This week, NASA will be attempting a most impressive feat: It will attempt to touch down its OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on the surface of asteroid Bennu to collect a sample. The sample will then be brought back to Earth for study. Learning more about the composition of this asteroid could help scientists understand more about how planets form, and could even give clues to the origin of life on Earth.

The spacecraft will touch down on a site called Nightingale and try to scoop up at least two pounds of soil from the asteroid. But because OSIRIS-REx is so far away from Earth, the engineers at mission control won’t be able to control it in real-time. They’ll send instructions to the craft which will then perform the complex approach and touch-down maneuver autonomously.

This will be the first time NASA has attempted to collect a sample from an asteroid, and you can watch the drama unfold live on NASA TV.

When and where the OSIRIS-REx mission is happening

An artist's impression of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission readying itself to touch the surface of asteroid Bennu.
An artist’s impression of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission readying itself to touch the surface of asteroid Bennu. NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

The mission is slated to occur at 3:12 p.m. PT on Tuesday, October 20. The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will begin its orbit departure maneuver at around 10:50 a.m. PT, when it will begin to approach the asteroid. If you want to follow along with every step of this process, you can check out the official OSIRIS-REx Twitter account.

At 2 p.m. PT, the live coverage of the mission will begin. The craft will begin preparations for performing the “Touch-and-Go” or TAG maneuver, in which it will approach the asteroid, slowing down to a gentle speed, then touch the surface of the asteroid and scoop up a sample using its robotic arm.

The mission will be managed by Lockheed Martin Space near Denver, with adjustments in place to keep the mission control personnel safe from coronavirus.

How to watch the mission and the pre-mission activities

The mission itself will be shown live on NASA TV, which you can watch either using the video embedded at the top of this page or on NASA’s website.

Before the launch, there are two briefings that you can watch to learn more about the mission: At 10 a.m. PT on Monday, October 19, there will be an Asteroid Science and Planetary Defense teleconference with Lori Glaze, Planetary Science Division director, NASA Headquarters, Washington; Hal Levison, Lucy mission principal investigator, Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado; Lindy Elkins-Tanton, Psyche mission principal investigator, Arizona State University, Tempe; Andrea Riley, DART mission program executive, NASA Headquarters; and Jamie Elsila, research scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland.

At 12 p.m. PT on Monday, October 19, there will be a televised OSIRIS-REx Science and Engineering briefing with Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator, Science Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters, Washington; Lori Glaze, Planetary Science Division director, NASA Headquarters; Heather Enos, OSIRIS-REx deputy principal investigator, University of Arizona, Tucson; Kenneth Getzandanner, OSIRIS-REx flight dynamics manager, Goddard; and Beth Buck, OSIRIS-REx mission operations program manager, Lockheed Martin Space, Littleton, Colorado.

On the day of the mission, Tuesday, October 20, from 1o:20 a.m. PT, NASA TV will show a live animation of OSIRIS-REx approaching the asteroid, and then from 2 p.m. PT there will be a live broadcast of the touchdown from Lockheed Martin.

Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
How to watch NASA launch its newest ocean and atmosphere observation satellite tonight
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with NASA’s PACE (Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem) spacecraft encapsulated atop is raised to a vertical position at Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024. Liftoff of the PACE mission is set for no earlier than 1:33 a.m. EST on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024.

Although NASA is most often associated with sending missions out to observe space, the agency also has a large number of space missions that turn the other way to observe Earth. The newest mission to observe Earth's atmosphere and oceans, and to provide insight into how these interact with the changing climate, is set for launch early Eastern time on Tuesday, February 6 .

Launch of Mission to Study Earth's Atmosphere and Oceans (Official NASA Broadcast)

Read more
How to watch Axiom-3 depart from the ISS on Wednesday
The SpaceX Dragon Freedom spacecraft carrying four Axiom MIssion 3 astronauts is pictured docked to the space station on Jan. 20, 2024.

Update: The departure has been postponed until Wednesday due to weather conditions. The information below has been updated to reflect this.

On Wednesday, the Axiom-3 crew will depart from the International Space Station (ISS), marking the end of the first all-European private mission to the station. Launched on January 18, the four-person crew has been on the station since Saturday, January 20, and will return to Earth in their SpaceX Dragon spacecraft.

Read more
NASA cracks open its first sample from an asteroid, foiling two sticky screws
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx curation engineer, Neftali Hernandez, attaches one of the tools developed to help remove two final fasteners that prohibited complete disassembly of the TAGSAM (Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism) head that holds the remainder of material collected from asteroid Bennu. Engineers on the team, based at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, developed new tools that freed the fasteners on Jan. 10.

NASA returned its first sample of an asteroid to Earth last year, landing a sample collected from asteroid Bennu in the Utah desert in September. Researchers were able to extract 70 grams of material from the canister that had been carried back to Earth by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, making this the largest asteroid sample ever brought to Earth. The scientists involved knew there was more material inside the mechanism, but getting at it proved difficult -- until now, as NASA has announced it has now managed to open up the troublesome mechanism.

You might think it would be an easy job to unscrew a canister and dump out the material inside, but extraction was a lengthy and technical process. That's because the focus was on preserving as much of the precious sample as possible, trying not to let any of the particles get lost. The issue was with two of the 25 fasteners that held the sample inside the collection mechanism.  The mechanism is kept inside a glove box to prevent any loss, and there were only certain tools available that worked with the glove box. So when the fasteners wouldn't open with the tools they had, the team couldn't just go at them with any other tool.

Read more