The Closest Image of Asteroid Bennu Yet

OSIRIS-REx’s sampling arm imaged above the surface of asteroid Bennu from a distance of 70 meters on April 14, 2020.

(From the OSIRIS-REx mission site)

Captured on April 14, 2020, this image shows the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft’s sampling arm – called the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) – and asteroid Bennu during the mission’s Checkpoint Rehearsal. The chosen sample site “Nightingale” is visible in the left of the image frame, located in the relatively clear, dark patch. The image was taken by the SamCam camera on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on April 14 from a distance of 230 ft (70 m), which is the closest image of Bennu captured to-date. The field of view is 79 ft (24 m). For reference, the bright, rectangular boulder on the crater’s south rim (lower left) is 7.5 ft (2.3 m) long, which is about the size of a door. The TAGSAM head is 1 ft (0.3 m) wide.

Rotational animation of Bennu made from images captured by OSIRIS-REx in December 2018.

The first Checkpoint rehearsal was performed successfully in April and the mission is scheduled to perform a second rehearsal on June 23, taking the spacecraft through the Matchpoint burn and down to an approximate altitude of 82 ft (25 meters).

The “real deal” is scheduled to take place on August 25. During this event, OSIRIS-REx’s TAGSAM sampling mechanism will touch Bennu’s surface for approximately five seconds, fire a charge of pressurized nitrogen to disturb the surface and collect a sample before the spacecraft backs away. OSIRIS-REx is scheduled to return the sample to Earth on Sept. 24, 2023.

Learn more about the OSIRIS-REx mission here. 

Image credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona