NASA’s Osiris-Rex spacecraft will complete its seven-year mission on Sunday by flying by Earth and dropping off a sample of rubble it collected from the asteroid Bennu.
It is expected to deliver at least a cupful of pebbles and dust, which is significantly more than the amount brought back by Japan from two other asteroids. This will mark the largest asteroid sample ever obtained and brought back to Earth. The sample capsule will parachute into the Utah desert while the spacecraft heads off to encounter another asteroid.
The Osiris-Rex mission has been a rollercoaster of challenges and accomplishments. The spacecraft arrived at Bennu in 2018 and spent two years studying the spinning space rock to identify the best spot for sample collection. It successfully touched the asteroid’s surface using its vacuum-like device, but an unexpected jammed lid caused some of the collected materials to spill into space. Despite this setback, the team managed to secure the remaining sample into the capsule.
Bennu, discovered in 1999, is about one-third of a mile wide and is believed to be a remnant of a larger asteroid collision. Its rocky surface is packed with boulders, and scientists believe it holds crucial evidence of the solar system’s formation. Osiris-Rex’s close study of Bennu will provide valuable insights into the history of our solar system and potentially help develop strategies for deflecting asteroids that may pose a threat to Earth in the future.
The sample capsule will be released from Osiris-Rex at a distance of 63,000 miles from Earth and will descend into the Utah Test and Training Range. The capsule will hit the Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of 27,650 mph and will be slowed down by a parachute for the final descent.
This mission marks a significant milestone in our understanding of asteroids and their potential impact on Earth. The sample collected from Bennu will serve as a time capsule from the early days of our solar system, shedding light on the origins of life on Earth.