NASA's spacecraft will 'deliver' asteroid sample on September 24, 2023
OSIRIS-REx (Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security -Regolith Explorer) is the first NASA mission to bring back an asteroid sample to Earth. After an elaborate two-year survey of asteroid Bennu, the spacecraft successfully picked up a specimen in October, 2020. NASA has now planned a parachute-guided delivery of the sample at the Utah Test and Training Range on September 24, 2023.
Why does this story matter?
- Previously, samples from the Moon were brought back via the Apollo 17 mission. This is the first time that a US spacecraft will bring back asteroid samples.
- Coming to the OSIRIS-REx mission, it will successfully complete its seven-year tenure when it returns to Earth with the collected specimen.
- The cosmic sample will then be thoroughly investigated to uncover any clues pointing to ancient life.
Where will the sample be delivered?
Starting in July 2023, the trajectory of the OSIRIS-REx space capsule will be altered to position it closer to the Earth. Full fledged preparations are already underway to welcome the asteroid sample. "NASA is working closely with the Air Force and Army to practice capsule retrieval and transport to onsite facilities at the Utah range," the space agency said in its official blogpost.
Sample capsule will be landed using parachutes
When the OSIRIS-REx is about 250km off the Earth's surface, the sample capsule will be released from the spacecraft for a precision landing via parachute. However, the delivery process is tricky. "If the capsule is angled too high, it will skip off the atmosphere," said Mike Moreau, OSIRIS-REx deputy project manager. "Angled too low, it will burn up in Earth's atmosphere."
A curated lab has been built to avoid contamination
A customized lab has been constructed by NASA's Johnson Space Center to preserve the asteroid sample in its pristine condition. Specialized handling equipment and storage boxes are also being designed to eliminate external contamination. The space center will distribute portions of the Bennu sample to researchers worldwide. The team intends to preserve a large proportion of the asteroid sample for investigation by future generations.
The exploration of asteroids will continue
If everything goes according to plan and the Bennu sample is smoothly delivered to Earth, then OSIRIS-REx will proceed with the extended mission dubbed OSIRIS-APEX. The spacecraft will then head to the next asteroid, Apophis.