A pick-pocketed piece of a giant asteroid named Bennu is on its manner again to Earth. NASA’s Osiris-Rex is winding down its mission greater than seven years after launching from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Again in 2020, the van-size spacecraft carried out a “touch-and-go” maneuver — kind of like a chest bump in area — and swiped a couple of ounces of fabric from the area rock, which is known as a pile of rubble held collectively by its personal gravity. Osiris-Rex lingered round Bennu till 2021, when it began its two-year journey again to Earth.
The lengthy flight ends on Sept. 24, when the spacecraft will jettison the capsule containing the pattern. The capsule will then make a superheated journey by way of the ambiance earlier than parachuting in for a delicate touchdown on the US army’s Utah Take a look at and Coaching Vary close to Dugway, Utah.
Mission controllers have been getting ready for the capsule’s return for months now. On Sept. 10, NASA reported the spacecraft briefly fired its thrusters to level itself towards Earth. The minor adjustment places Osiris-Rex on track to launch the capsule on a trajectory to enter our ambiance off the coast of California at 7:42 a.m. PT. About 13 minutes later it’ll contact down southwest of Salt Lake Metropolis someplace in a predetermined space measuring 36 miles by 8.5 miles throughout.
The capsule will sizzle because it races by way of the sky protected by a warmth defend. It will likely be tracked with thermal imaging gear and restoration groups will probably be deployed by helicopter to get well it as fast as doable to keep away from doable contamination from Earth’s atmosphere.
Osiris-Rex is the primary such mission led by NASA. Japan’s area company efficiently despatched two spacecraft, named Hayabusa and Hayabusa2 to gather and return samples from asteroids Itokawa and Ryugu, respectively.
The pattern is about to reach at Johnson Area Middle in Houston after touchdown on Sept. 24, the place it’ll bear preliminary evaluation and be unveiled on Oct. 11 in a livestreamed information convention. It is hoped the pattern will present scientists with a window into the start of the photo voltaic system, together with the solar and planets, some 4.5 billion years in the past.
As for the primary spacecraft, it is not finished. After sending its treasure to the floor, Osiris-Rex will fireplace its engines to keep away from smashing into the ambiance itself. As an alternative, it’ll proceed on to its subsequent goal, the asteroid Apophis, at which level it is going to be re-christened Osiris-Apex (Osiris-Apophis Explorer). The automobile is not outfitted to gather and return one other pattern, however it could attempt to blast the asteroid with its gasoline thrusters in an try to dislodge mud and different small bits for research.
Apophis is a crucial goal as a result of it is thought-about a probably hazardous asteroid. Whereas any probability of it impacting Earth within the subsequent century has been dominated out, it is going to be price holding a detailed eye on for hundreds of years to return.