Scientists identified four potential sites before picking a spot dubbed “Nightingale” that is located in Bennu’s northern hemisphere.
“After thoroughly evaluating all four candidate sites, we made our final decision based on which site has the greatest amount of fine-grained material and how easily the spacecraft can access that material while keeping the spacecraft safe,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona in Tucson, in a statement. “Of the four candidates, site Nightingale best meets these criteria and, ultimately, best ensures mission success.”
This image released by NASA shows sample site Nightingale, OSIRIS-REx’s primary sample collection site on asteroid Bennu. The image is overlaid with a graphic of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to illustrate the scale of the site. (NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)
A second site, dubbed Osprey, has been picked as a backup for sample collection.
OSIRIS-REx, which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, launched in September 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The spacecraft reached Bennu in December 2018.
This is a mosaic image of asteroid Bennu, from NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. (Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)
The spacecraft will use a robotic arm to grab the sample from Bennu.
OSIRIS-Rex will make its first “touch-and-go” sample collection attempt in August 2020. The probe will depart Bennu in 2021 and is scheduled to return to Earth in September 2023, according to NASA.