After orbiting the near-Earth asteroid Bennu for nearly two years, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is ready to reach out its robotic arm and collect a sample from the asteroid’s surface on Tuesday.
That sample will be returned to Earth in 2023. A van-size spacecraft has to briefly touch down its arm in a landing site called Nightingale.
The site is the width of a few parking spaces. The arm will collect a sample between 2 ounces and 2 kilograms before backing away to safety.
The spacecraft launched four years ago, has been orbiting Bennu for two years. On Tuesday it will briefly touch its surface via a robotic arm at 6:12 p.m. ET for less than a minute to grab a sample.
The spacecraft is then expected to remain in Bennu’s orbit until 2021, when it will begin its journey home. It’s expected to land back on Earth with the sample in 2023.
Also happening today, two small asteroids will fly by Earth today (Oct. 19) at a range that’s closer than the moon. The asteroids 2020 UX and 2020 TF6, both discovered in the last week, will be less than half the distance of Earth’s moon (when they pass by today, but pose little threat to our planet.
Asteroid flybys like today’s are relatively common. Two more small asteroids will fly just inside the moon’s orbit on Wednesday (Oct. 21).