It has been definitely worth the wait. After 5 years on mission, together with greater than two years spent exploring the 500-meter asteroid 101955 Bennu, NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REX) burned its thrusters for seven minutes on Monday, May tenth. This burn set the spacecraft transferring 1,000 kilometers per hour (600 mph) relative to the asteroid to begin its 2.5-year journey dwelling to Earth.
“Our whole mindset has been, ‘where are we in space relative to Bennu?’” says Mike Moreau (NASA-Goddard Spaceflight Center) in a current press release. “Now our mindset has shifted to ‘where is the spacecraft in relation to Earth?’”
The Long Road Home
Now, the spacecraft will orbit the Sun twice inside to the orbit of Venus, earlier than making a flyby of the Earth on September 24, 2023. Then, the pattern return capsule will separate from the spacecraft, for a parachute reentry over the Utah Test and Training Range within the Utah desert. This isn’t with out threat: in 2004, the Genesis pattern return capsule slammed into the Utah desert flooring when its drogue chute did not open.
OSIRIS-REX arrived at Bennu in December 2018 and spent a number of months mapping the asteroid from afar earlier than approaching it up shut. The mission’s climax occurred on October 20, 2020, when the spacecraft approached the Nightingale website, touched the surface of the asteroid for six seconds, and fired a burst of nitrogen gas via its Touch and Go, Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) arm to gather bits of rock from the floor.
The sampling maneuver proved to be greater than profitable, because the SamCam imager revealed the TAGSAM head was overflowing with materials, slowly escaping although an open flap. Engineers made the short determination to instantly stow the sample earlier than dropping any additional materials, forgoing the elective spin check to “weigh” the collected particles.
Even with out the spin check, NASA is assured based mostly on visible inspection that the maneuver collected between 400 grams and 1 kilogram of regolith — effectively over the mission aim of 60 grams. The samples collected by OSIRIS-REX symbolize pristine remnants of the early solar system — to not point out NASA’s greatest pattern return for the reason that Apollo period.
The asteroid held its share of surprises and challenges for the mission crew. Bennu’s floor turned out to be rougher than anticipated, strewn with giant boulders that made sample site selection difficult. Despite the potential hazards, pattern assortment was profitable. A final cross 3.5 kilometers over the Nightingale website, accomplished earlier than the crew switched off navigation cameras on April ninth, confirmed the impression the spacecraft made upon touchdown.
Now, engineers will periodically examine in on the spacecraft, making course corrections as wanted. If all the things goes as deliberate, OSIRIS-REX ought to have numerous gasoline remaining post-Earth flyby. In reality, it’s not out of the query that the spacecraft would possibly head towards a secondary goal. Both Japan’s Hayabusa 2 and China’s Chang’e 5 lunar sample collector, which accomplished their major missions in 2020, at the moment are headed towards new targets.
It has been a protracted journey already, and miles left to cowl, however will probably be thrilling to see the pattern return capsule streaking throughout the Utah sky come late 2023.