NASA: This Monday (10), NASA started the mission back to Earth from the Osiris-Rex spacecraft. Bringing samples collected from the asteroid Bennu, it will have to travel more than 2.2 billion kilometers to reach our planet. This is because the path will not be linear and will need to take two turns around the Sun.
The spacecraft is the first in NASA history to visit an asteroid close to Earth, collect samples and return to the planet. This collection was made in October 2020, marking a major highlight in the mission. The probe itself was launched in 2016, but it only hit the asteroid in December 2018. Now, Osiris-Rex is not expected to return to Earth until September 24, 2023.
At around 5:23 pm today, the spacecraft started its main engines for seven minutes, which the agency considers “its most significant maneuver since arriving at Bennu”. “This firing pushed the spacecraft away from the asteroid at nearly 1,000 kilometers per hour, placing it on a two-and-a-half-year journey towards Earth,” says the agency’s statement.
Osiris-Rex’s next steps
Upon entering the Earth’s atmosphere, the capsule with the pieces of the asteroid will separate from the rest of the spacecraft. She is expected to parachute in a controlled zone in the western desert of Utah, in the United States, and will be recovered by scientists.
Despite the effective maneuver, NASA reinforces that taking the sample safely to Earth “is the team’s next critical objective. This includes planning future maneuvers to keep the spacecraft going during its journey.”
The NASA team also considers it a “potential mission extended after [Osirix-Rex] returns [with] the sample capsule to Earth”. According to the agency, the feasibility of the mission will be investigated, as there is enough fuel.