NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission is set to create history on September 24, 2023, by bringing back samples from the asteroid Bennu after spending seven years in deep space. Asteroid Bennu is a potentially hazardous, near-Earth space rock that has a nearly 1 in 1,800 chance of colliding with Earth in the next 300 years. It makes a close approach to Earth every six years.
What is NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission
Launched in 2016, the spacecraft reached Bennu in October 2020 and successfully collected samples from its surface. The return of these samples is scheduled for 10 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT) at the Department of Defense’s Utah Test and Training Range near Dugway, Utah, using a special capsule and parachute. As NASA eagerly anticipates the landing, scientists are preparing for the spacecraft’s return to Earth, which involves a high-speed entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, followed by the deployment of parachutes to slow it down to a manageable 10 mph. The spacecraft will then head to Apophis, another potentially dangerous space rock, for a rendezvous in 2029.
In a crucial move, NASA initiated a thruster firing on September 10, aligning the probe’s course toward Earth, ensuring the successful asteroid sample delivery. Brian May, the Queen guitarist, played a significant role in creating 3D images of Bennu’s surface, aiding mission leaders in identifying safe landing spots.
The OSIRIS-REx team conducted a drop test on August 30, practicing the procedures they will employ when the real asteroid sample arrives on September 24. Bennu, initially designated as 1999 RQ36, was discovered by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) survey on September 11, 1999.
All about Asteroid Bennu
Some fascinating facts about Bennu include its low density, which is only about 30 percent more than water, suggesting it is a loose collection of rocks. Scientists believe it may eventually burn up in the Sun or possibly collide with Venus, however it comes closer to earth every 6 years. Additionally, Bennu lacks a moon and features a significant boulder at its south pole, measuring approximately 164 feet (50 meters) high and 180 feet (55 meters) wide.