This series of images taken by the OSIRIS REx spacecraft shows the asteroid bennu at a distance of approximately 50 miles (80 km) 19659006] Goddard Space Flight Center at NASA / University of Arizona
OSIRIS REx Mission and NASA's New Horizons Spacecraft which now occupies one inhabitant of the Kuiper Belt a billion miles behind Pluto are both 19659002] New Horizons will fly past its target on New Year's Day, a few hours after OSIRIS, on New Year's Day, a frozen, unaltered body known as Ultima Thule -REx slipping into a gravitational orbit around Bennu.
The goal of both missions is to learn more about how the original sun-fog merged into the Sun and its wake of planets, asteroids, and comets, giving scientists a better understanding
OSIRIS-REx – the kinky acronym stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security Regolith Explorer – is equipped with three cameras, two spectrometers, a laser altimeter and an X-ray imaging system that was developed by college students.
It is also equipped with a "Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism" (TAGSAM) at the end of a 10 foot long robotic arm. After one and a half years of detailed mapping and rehearsal, OSIRIS-REx will briefly press TAGSAM in July 2020 in contact with the surface of Bennu in the form of an inverted pie dish.
During the five-second maneuver, compressed nitrogen gas shoots into the collector, shaking up small rocks and earth. Part of this material, at least two ounces and up to 4.4 pounds, is trapped in filters for recycling into the soil.
After OSIRIS-REx has regressed, it instructs the robot arm to place the collector in an aerodynamic sample return capsule. At this point in-situ science is terminated and OSIRIS-REx will simply wait for the Earth and Bennu to reach the proper positions in their orbits to make the long journey home.
"We can not leave Bennu until March of 2021 just because we have to wait for the mechanics of the orbit to line up," Dante Lauretta, the chief investigator, said in a previous interview. "So, that's more than two and a half years of operations on the asteroid – we just touch the asteroid for that short, five-second contact – we'll do anything to make sure we get the sample on the asteroid first attempt."
OSIRIS -REx will return to Earth in September 2023 and drop the sample container for a quick dip into the Utah Test and Training Range about 80 miles west of Salt Lake City, Utah. The rescue teams will deliver the capsule to the Astromaterials Acquisition and Curing Office at Johnson Space Center, Houston, where Apollo lunar rocks are stored.
Some Bennu samples are kept in reserve while the rest are subjected to a two-year detailed analysis