In late October 2020, NASA carried out its landing sampling mission on asteroid Bennu, a process that involved sinking a 1.6-foot sampling head to the surface and then firing pressurized nitrogen gas. The impact combined with the asteroid’s low gravity caused what NASA calls a “dramatic effect” at the sampling site, and the space agency is now looking more closely at the damage.
The OSIRIS-REx mission was a success and resulted in the collection of material from the surface of the asteroid. NASA explains that his team plans a final flyby around Bennu on April 7, which will observe the sample collection site, giving researchers a glimpse of the damage caused by the spacecraft’s touch.
The observation will involve bringing the spacecraft about 2.3 miles from the surface of Bennu, which will be the closest it has been since the October event. Among other things, the pressurized gas “mobilized” a lot of dust and rocks on the surface, particularly in light of the asteroid’s low gravity.
“This final Bennu flyby will provide the mission team with an opportunity to learn how the spacecraft’s contact with the Bennu surface has altered the sample site and the region around it,” explained NASA in its final flyby announcement. The return trip will take two years and is scheduled to start in mid-May.
The images from the collection site will last for 5.9 hours and will cover almost a complete rotation of the asteroid. The high resolution images will be contrasted with the images captured and returned before collection, revealing the changes caused by OSIRIS-REx.