After a seven-year journey to the asteroid Bennu and back to Earth, NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is weeks away from dropping off its precious cargo, sending its capsule with bits of asteroid flying through Earth's atmosphere to land in the remote desert of Utah.
The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security–Regolith Explorer, launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in 2016. Seven years later, the spacecraft is set to drop off about 9 ounces of rocks and dirt from the asteroid Bennu, which it collected in 2020. The spacecraft will then continue on to survey the asteroid Apophis when it makes a fly-by of Earth in 2029.
NASA teams just completed the final dress rehearsal of the drop test at the Department of Defense's Utah Test and Training Range, about 80 miles from Salt Lake City.
On Sept. 24, OSIRIS-REx will release a capsule shaped like a tiny spacecraft, which will enter Earth's atmosphere at about 27,650 mph. Infrared cameras will track its movements as it pushes farther into the atmosphere. The capsule will slow down for landing with the help of parachutes, hopefully making a soft touchdown in the desert.
NASA teams were practicing the last part of the capsule's descent to Earth in Utah this week. A training model of the sample return capsule was released from an aircraft and collected in the desert. The space agency said the rehearsal was the final test before the actual asteroid sample collection in September.
"I am immensely proud of the efforts our team has poured into this endeavor," said OSIRIS-REx principal investigator Dante Lauretta with the University of Arizona. "Just as our meticulous planning and rehearsal prepared us to collect a sample from Bennu, we have honed our skills for sample recovery."
NASA said everything was on schedule for the sample capsule to enter Earth's atmosphere at 10:42 a.m. ET on Sept. 24. After landing just before 11 a.m. ET, the capsule will be packaged for travel and flown to a clean room on the military range before it makes the journey to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Original article source: Final countdown begins for NASA's OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample landing in Utah