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.
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.
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.
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