NASA spacecraft to collect asteroid sample in ‘touch-and-go’ manoeuvre

NASA hopes it can grab 60g of the Bennu asteroid in just 10 seconds.

The Osiris-Rex spacecraft took this picture of Bennu in 2018

A NASA spacecraft will this week attempt to descend on an asteroid and bring back a sample in a 10-second mission.

The Osiris-Rex has been circling the “Bennu” asteroid for nearly two years – hundreds of millions of miles away from Earth.

But on Tuesday it will try to collect a handful of dirt and gravel from its boulder-packed surface.

The mission, which will see the van-sized spacecraft on autopilot for the “touch-and-go” manoeuvre, will last just five to 10 seconds and hopes to bring back 60g worth of Bennu.

Once it drops out of its half-mile-high orbit around the asteroid, the spacecraft will take a deliberate four-hour detour to just above its surface.

Then an 11ft arm will reach out and touch it in the hope it can grab the sample.

There is an 18-minute radio communication lag between the location of the asteroid and NASA’s base – so controllers will be unable to intervene.

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