NASA launches the unmanned OSIRIS-REx (Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer) spacecraft, bound for the asteroid Bennu, a target it won’t reach for two years. Once at Bennu, OSIRIS-REx is intended to orbit the asteroid and then drop down close enough to gather surface samples for return to Earth in a small sample container capable of surviving re-entry through the atmosphere. The samples from Bennu, an asteroid considered a hazard for Earth in the future, will not arrive until September 2023.
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx robotic spacecraft successfully gathers a generous sample of the surface regolith of asteroid 101955 Bennu on its first attempt, with some of the material estimated to originate from as deep as 49 centimeters beneath Bennu’s surface. (This result indicates that the asteroid’s surface is much softer and more pliable than expected.) The touchdown point was selected in conjunction with volunteer citizen scientists searching for safe places to gather a sample, and ruling out potential touchdown sites that appeared to be too hazardous. Intended to gather a minimum of 60 grams of material from Bennu, OSIRIS-REx is believed to have exceeded that minimum by a wide margin, and approval is given to stow the sample in its return container a week ahead of schedule. OSIRIS-REx will remain in Bennu’s orbit until March 2021, at which time it will fire its engines to begin its journey to return the samples of asteroid matter to Earth in September 2023.