NASA has chosen four candidate areas on asteroid Bennu that may serve as sample collection sites for the Lockheed Martin-built Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer spacecraft. The selected sites measure 16 to 33 feet in radius and contain "ponds" of fine grain material that may work as samples for high-resolution observation procedures, the agency said Tuesday.
Sites Kingfisher and Osprey are situated at Bennu's equatorial region, while Sites Sandpiper and Nightingale are located at the asteroid's southern and northern hemispheres respectively. OSIRIS-REx is slated to conduct analysis of the candidate sites in the fall and will perform high passes across each area at a distance of 0.8 miles to validate their eligibility for sampling.
NASA will utilize the results of the analysis to pick primary and backup collection areas in December. The spacecraft will carry out reconnaissance missions over the two remaining sites and is set to begin sample collection later in 2020 prior to its return to Earth on Sept. 24, 2023.