As the days count down to NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft’s Touch-And-Go asteroid sample collection attempt, Southwest Research Institute scientists have helped determine what the spacecraft can expect to return from the near-Earth asteroid Bennu’s surface. Three papers published online by Science on Oct. 8 discuss the color, reflectivity, age, composition, origin and distribution of materials that make up the asteroid’s rough surface.
On October 20, the spacecraft will descend to the asteroid’s boulder-strewn surface, touch the ground with its robotic arm for a few seconds and collect a sample of rocks and dust — marking the first time NASA has grabbed pieces of an asteroid for return to Earth. SwRI scientists played a role in the selection of the sample sites. The first attempt will be made at Nightingale, a rocky area 66 feet in diameter in Bennu’s northern hemisphere. If this historic attempt is unsuccessful, the spacecraft will try again