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As OSIRIS-REx Returns to Earth From Asteroid Bennu, a Look Behind the Scenes

As OSIRIS-REx Returns to Earth From Asteroid Bennu, a Look Behind the Scenes

  • OSIRIS-REx will help reveal Bennu’s detailed carbon chemistry and history of space weathering and unlock a key piece of the solar system’s early history.

This week, NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security–Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission returns to Earth carrying an estimated 250 grams (8.8 ounces) of material gathered from the surface of an asteroid.

The mission milestone has generated a “pretty wild emotional state,” said OSIRIS-REx principal investigator Dante Lauretta, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “Obviously excited, and proud of how well we’ve done. I think this team has done an amazing job – I would say, flawless, and the spacecraft is very healthy, performing absolutely perfectly right now.”

The sample return capsule is scheduled for a soft touchdown via parachute in Utah’s desert on the morning of September 24. Scientists expect that the asteroid samples will reveal details about the history of the solar system and the types of materials that were available to form and seed early Earth.

A seven-year journey

Bennu is more rugged than scientists expected. Photo: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona. Public domain.

OSIRIS-REx launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida in 2016 and spent two years traveling to Bennu, a carbon-rich asteroid that orbits between Earth and Mars. The spacecraft arrived at the asteroid in December 2018 and orbited for two years, measuring the asteroid’s mass, density, albedo, surface composition and particle environment.

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