The OSIRIS Rex spacecraft poked the Bennu asteroid with a high-tech sample collection device, and collected the largest and most scientifically advanced stick poking in human history.

OSIRIS-REx mission to sample Bennu asteroid

The OSIRIS-REx mission was launched in 2016 with the mission of collecting a sample from the near-Earth asteroid 101955 Bennu. This mission was the first time a NASA spacecraft had ever travelled to an asteroid to physically collect a sample from its surface. NASA's goal with OSIRIS-REx was to collect a 60g sample of regolith and dust from Bennu's surface using its Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism.

Did OSIRIS-REx collect a sample?

The mission to collect a sample from Bennu was not as simple as it may sound. OSIRIS-REx spent over a year circling Bennu and mapping out its surface, choosing the best location for its system-spanning pogo-stick hop. A 3rd-grade student named the asteroid Bennu after the Egyptian mythological bird Bennu, and NASA has kept with this bird-like naming convention. 

NASA chose the Nightingale site for OSIRIS's landing on Bennu because it was relatively young and clear of rocks. OSIRIS began its slow descent towards the asteroid, but did several practice runs first. It finally went into strike on the 20th of October. 

OSIRIS, a spacecraft that used onboard computer systems to plan its trajectory and perform its operations, reached out to touch the surface of an asteroid and kept going. Bennu's surface is actually loosely held material interspersed with pockets of nothingness, meaning that you could sink into them. 

OSIRIS' nitrogen gas burst blasted a hole in the side of Bennu, displacing over 6 tons of loose rock. The thrusters went into overdrive, burning the most they had ever burned on this trip.

OSIRIS collected between 400g and over 1kg of material from the asteroid

OSIRIS transferred the sampler head to a sealed container. OSIRIS had been a huge success, and after one last flyby on April 7th 2021, it began a long journey home.

OSIRIS is making its way back to Earth and will release its sample in 2023. It will land in the Utah desert and be collected and examined. OSIRIS, the Egyptian heron that captured a sample of Bennu, will be heading off to investigate the Apophis asteroid, which is believed to be passing within 50,000km of Earth in 2029.

OSIRIS-REx is the first U.S. mission to collect a sample from an asteroid

The spacecraft's trajectory correction maneuver (TCM) thrusters were fired for the first time on Oct. 7, 2016, for a course correction.

OSIRIS-REx conducted its first deep-space maneuver on Dec. 28, 2016, and a second firing on Aug. 25, 2017, to sharpen its trajectory for an Earth gravity-assist encounter on Sept. 22, 2017.

OSIRIS-REx mapped Bennu in detail and searched for a safe sample collection site. The team selected a site called "Nightingale" in a northern crater 460 feet (140 meters) wide.

The mission team received images that confirmed the spacecraft had collected enough material to meet its mission requirement and sent commands to close the Sample Return Capsule.

OSIRIS-REx completed its last flyover of Bennu on April 7, 2021 and started slowly drifting away from the asteroid. It took 5.9 hours to image the asteroid.

On May 10, the spacecraft fired its main engines at full throttle for seven minutes, setting it on a 2.5-year cruise toward Earth.

After orbiting the Sun twice, OSIRIS-REx will reach Earth on Sept. 24, 2023. It will release a capsule containing pieces of Bennu into Earth's atmosphere, and the spacecraft will then be extended to explore Apophis, an asteroid that will come within 20,000 miles (32,000 kilometers) of Earth in 2029.