NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is preparing to return to Earth on September 24, 2023, bringing with it the first asteroid sample ever collected in space. Launched on September 8, 2023, OSIRIS-REx traveled to the near-Earth asteroid Bennu and successfully collected a sample of rocks and dust from its surface.
Upon its return to Earth, the spacecraft will release a mini-fridge-sized capsule containing the pieces collected from Bennu. This capsule will parachute to the Department of Defense’s Utah Test and Training Range, where the OSIRIS-REx team will be stationed to retrieve it.
As of the latest update, the spacecraft is approximately 2.8 million kilometers away from Earth and traveling at a speed of about 23,000 kilometers per hour. On September 17, the spacecraft adjusted its trajectory to refine the landing location of the sample capsule, briefly firing its thrusters to change its velocity by 7 inches per minute relative to Earth.
Scientists at NASA are eager to analyze the material collected from Bennu, which consists of nearly half a pound of rubble and dust from the asteroid’s surface. They hope that this material will provide insights into the conditions and composition of our solar system’s early days, shedding light on a time approximately 4.5 billion years ago when the Sun and planets were forming.
The sample capsule is expected to endure extreme conditions, including temperatures hotter than lava and one of the second-fastest velocities ever achieved by a human-made object entering Earth’s atmosphere. It will enter the atmosphere at approximately 36 times the speed of sound and subsequently face wind, rain, and other weather conditions as it descends closer to the surface.
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