KEY POINTS

  • NASA successfully completed its long-planned TAG mission on asteroid Bennu this week
  • The agency shared videos of the event captured by an instrument aboard OSIRIS-REx
  • The agency will now determine whether the TAG event captured enough samples or not

NASA shared footage of the recently completed Touch-And-Go (TAG) sample collection event on asteroid Bennu. The short clips show some of the critical moments from the historic mission.

After years of planning, NASA succeeded this week in performing its first-ever mission to collect samples directly from an asteroid. Using the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft, the agency successfully "booped" the asteroid for a brief moment to collect samples and safely backed away again.

The agency shared footage of the historic mission captured by the SamCam instrument, which is one of the three cameras in the OSIRIS-REx Camera Suite. In an eight-second video shared by NASA, the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) instrument, the only part of the spacecraft to touch the surface, can be seen approaching and positioning itself to make contact with the Nightingale sample collection site.

"Upon initial contact, the TAGSAM head appears to crush some of the porous rocks underneath it," NASA said on its website. "One second later, the spacecraft fires a nitrogen gas bottle, which mobilizes a substantial amount of the sample site's material."

Although the footage looks rather like a video of the collection event, it is actually a series of 82 images captured within a five-minute period.

According to NASA, the touchdown was confirmed at exactly 6.08 p.m. EDT, with the data showing that TAGSAM only made contact with the surface of asteroid Bennu for just six seconds. After the brief contact, the spacecraft fired its thrusters to move away from the asteroid again.

Another video shared by the agency is also a collection of images captured by SamCam, this time of 16 images showing the "aftermath" of the sample collection. Unlike the other video, which looks like a clean shot of the mission, the 20-second aftermath video looks rather like a slide show of the disturbance that the mission caused on the surface of the asteroid.

Starting with a clean shot of the TAGSAM touching the surface, the video goes on to show several other images of the debris and asteroid material floating around the instrument as it backs away from the asteroid.

The team behind the mission is analyzing how much samples the spacecraft actually collected during Tuesday's mission. If it's enough, OSIRIS-REx will prepare to leave Bennu and return to Earth. If not, the team will have to make another TAG attempt in January 2021.

Determining how much the spacecraft really collected will take about a week, NASA said in a news release.

"Even though we have some work ahead of us to determine the outcome of the event – the successful contact, the TAGSAM gas firing, and back-away from Bennu are major accomplishments for the team," OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Dante Lauretta, said in the NASA news release. "I look forward to analyzing the data to determine the mass of sample collected."

Osiris-Rex's robotic arm makes contact with asteroid Bennu to collect samples Osiris-Rex's robotic arm makes contact with asteroid Bennu to collect samples Photo: NASA TV / Handout