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OSIRIS-REx team sets Oct. 20 date to swipe samples from asteroid Bennu
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OSIRIS-REx team sets Oct. 20 date to swipe samples from asteroid Bennu

The OSIRIS-REx mission has set an Oct. 20 date for spacecraft to reach down and grab a sample from the rocky surface of the asteroid Bennu, tens of millions of miles from Earth.

Football might get canceled by the coronavirus, but the University of Arizona has at least one touchdown on the schedule for this fall.

The university-led OSIRIS-REx mission has set an Oct. 20 date for the spacecraft to reach down and grab a sample from the rocky surface of the asteroid Bennu, tens of millions of miles from Earth.

First, though, team members are slated to make one more practice run on Aug. 11. They successfully completed their first rehearsal last month in preparation for the delicate, touch-and-go collection maneuver that will have the spacecraft’s sampling arm in contact with the surface for about five seconds.

The sample collection was originally expected to occur in August, but it was delayed amid disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We want to provide the team more time to see if there’s anything we can do to improve the mission’s probability of success,” said the UA’s Heather Enos, deputy principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx, in a written statement. “The fact that this is such a long mission means there’s more opportunity to experience the unexpected. We knew that and planned for it. I’m in awe of how adaptable this team is.”

OSIRIS-REx has three major partners: Lockheed Martin, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and the University of Arizona.

The spacecraft was launched in 2016 and entered orbit around Bennu at the end of 2018, after a two-year, 1.25-billion-mile journey to chase down the asteroid.

The Nightingale site, located in the asteroid Bennu, is where the OSIRIS-REx mission hopes to collect up to 4.4 pounds of samples to help provide clues on life’s origins.

In December, the team officially unveiled the spot where it plans to collect up to 4.4 pounds of samples: a site called “Nightingale” located in a 230-foot crater in Bennu’s northern hemisphere.

The spacecraft is then scheduled to leave Bennu in March 2021 and return to Earth with its precious cargo on Sept. 24, 2023.

Researchers are hoping the samples on board will provide clues about the origins of life and the early history of the solar system.

Contact reporter Henry Brean at hbrean@tucson.com or 520-573 4283. On Twitter: @RefriedBrean

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