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NASA's OSIRIS-REx Probe Delivers Asteroid Bennu Sample To Earth This Weekend

NASA's OSIRIS-REx probe delivers asteroid Bennu sample to Earth this weekend after three years in space. On Sunday, September 24th, the sample capsule is scheduled to make a gentle landing onto the Utah desert with the aid of parachutes.

Daisy-Mae Schmitt
Sep 20, 202335 Shares17376 Views
NASA's OSIRIS-REx probe delivers asteroid Bennu sample to Earth this weekendafter three years in space. On Sunday, September 24th, the sample capsule is scheduled to make a gentle landing onto the Utah desert with the aid of parachutes.
Contained within this capsule is a precious cargo of material painstakingly gathered by OSIRIS-REx from the surface of a near-Earth asteroid named Bennu, measuring approximately 1,650 feet in diameter, back in October 2020. Scientists believe that the analysis of this celestial material holds the potential to unveil significant insights into the early history of our solar system. Furthermore, it may even provide valuable clues about the origins of life here on Earth.
OSIRIS-REx had the ambitious goal of securing a minimum of 2 ounces (60 grams) of material during its descent to the surface of the asteroid. However, the mission took an unexpected turn when it discovered that Bennu was not as solid as initially anticipated. The spacecraft's sampling arm plunged deep into the asteroid's surface, even briefly getting stuck before resurfacing.
Despite this challenging situation, OSIRIS-REx managed to collect a substantial amount of Bennu material. However, the sampling gear became clogged with dirt and rock, which prevented a proper seal and caused some of the collected material to drift into space.
To minimize the risk of losing more of the sample, the mission team opted to expedite the storage of Bennu material in the probe's return capsule. This decision bypassed a previously planned maneuver that would have rotated OSIRIS-REx to gather the data needed to estimate the sample's mass.
The team arrived at an estimated sample size using alternative methods, which stands at 8.8 ounces (250 grams), with a margin of error of 3.6 ounces (101 grams). Consequently, the sample capsule could potentially contain as much as 12.4 ounces (351 grams) or as little as 5.2 ounces (149 grams).
The precise quantity of the asteroid sample will remain unknown until it has been processed, leaving us eagerly awaiting the final revelation. Even the lower end of the estimated sample size would mark a resounding success for OSIRIS-REx, significantly surpassing the original mission's minimum target of 2 ounces.
For context, Japan's Hayabusa2 spacecraft returned a relatively modest 0.18 ounces (5 grams) of material from the asteroid Ryugu in December 2020. Nonetheless, scientists have already gleaned a wealth of intriguing findings from that comparatively small sample.
Upon its return, OSIRIS-REx's collected material will be securely stored and meticulously curated at NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston. The JSC team will manage the distribution of these samples to researchers worldwide, who will conduct diverse studies with various objectives.
One prominent area of investigation will delve into organic compounds, the fundamental carbon-based components essential for life as we understand it. Scientists theorize that carbon-rich asteroids like Bennu may have played a role in kickstarting life on Earth in the distant past by delivering these organic materials through impacts.
However, OSIRIS-REx's mission doesn't conclude with sending the sample capsule back to Earth. Instead, the spacecraft will chart a course for the potentially hazardous asteroid Apophis, reaching it in 2029. This extended mission, known as OSIRIS-APEX, will involve a detailed study of Apophis, contributing to our understanding of such celestial bodies.
An illustration of NASA's OSIRIS-REx close to an asteroid in space
An illustration of NASA's OSIRIS-REx close to an asteroid in space

NASA's Coverage For First Asteroid Sample Landing

The first-ever asteroid sample collected in space by NASA is set to touch down on Earth this Sunday, September 24, and a series of events will precede its arrival.
NASA will provide live coverage of the OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security - Regolith Explorer) capsule landing, commencing at 10 a.m. EDT (8 a.m. MDT). This coverage will be accessible on NASA TV, the NASA app, and the agency's official website. You can watch the broadcast online at https://www.nasa.gov/live.
Furthermore, in addition to the English broadcast, NASA will also stream coverage of the landing, starting at 10 a.m. EDT (8 a.m. MDT), in Spanish on platforms such as X, Facebook, and YouTube.

Postlanding News Conference

Following the capsule's landing, a news conference is scheduled for approximately 5 p.m. EDT (3 p.m. MDT) to coincide with the arrival of the sample capsule at a temporary clean room located on the military range. This press conference will be broadcast on NASA TV, the NASA app, and the agency's official website.
Media representatives interested in posing questions during the briefing are required to provide their complete name, affiliation, email address, and contact number. These details should be sent to Alana Johnson at alana.r.johnson@nasa.gov, no later than two hours before the scheduled start of the briefing.

Prelanding Media Call

Ahead of the anticipated landing, NASA will host a media call to provide a status update on Friday, September 22, at 3 p.m. EDT (1 p.m. MDT).
To ensure the successful delivery of a sample from the near-Earth asteroid Bennu, spacecraft operators must meticulously calculate OSIRIS-REx's speed and trajectory, ensuring the precise release of the sample capsule into Earth's atmosphere and its landing on the U.S. Department of Defense's Utah Test and Training Range. During this media call, mission leaders will discuss the outcomes of the spacecraft's final trajectory maneuvers, outline expectations for the capsule's entry, descent, and landing, and elaborate on plans for recovery operations in the vast western desert of Utah.
The audio feed of the media call will be available for live streaming on NASA's official website.
Participants include:
  • Lori Glaze, director, Planetary Sciences Division, NASA Headquarters, Washington
  • Rich Burns, OSIRIS-REx project manager, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland
  • Sandra Freund, OSIRIS-REx program manager, Lockheed Martin
  • Nicole Lunning, OSIRIS-REx curation lead, NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston
  • Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator, University of Arizona
To join the teleconference, media representatives are required to submit their complete name, affiliation, email address, and contact number to Alana Johnson at alana.r.johnson@nasa.gov. These details should be sent no later than two hours prior to the commencement of the call.
Two more OSIRIS-REx activities happening Sept. 22 include:
  • Remote interviews: NASA will offer live and taped interviews to reporters with members of the OSIRIS-REx team and subject matter experts. Interviews will be conducted remotely using video chat programs, primarily Zoom, in nine-minute time slots beginning at 6 a.m. EDT (4 a.m. MDT). Media can request interviewsonline.
  • Stamp first day of issue ceremony:The U.S. Postal Service will hold a first-day-of-issue ceremony for a stamp featuring OSIRIS-REx at Clark Planetarium in Salt Lake City at 11 a.m. MDT. The USPS news releaseprovides more information about the event, which media are invited to attend.
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