NASA has announced that Osiris-REx will begin its long return journey to Earth on May 10. The spacecraft will then leave the asteroid Bennu behind, where the robot has collected grit. On September 24 in 2023, the spacecraft must deliver its samples to Earth.
According to NASA, the probe picked up a substantial amount of grit on Oct. 20 last year, which is believed to exceed 60 grams. That did not go entirely smoothly; so much was collected that the storage area could not be closed properly. As a result, samples have been lost, but probably not in large quantities. Finally, NASA managed to store the samples in the probe.
Because the return flight does not start until May, the space agency has the chance to fly close to the asteroid for one last time. This was not originally part of the mission. This flyby is planned to see how the lander’s contact with the surface has changed the staging site called Nightingale. This location is studied from a distance of 3.2 kilometers. During collection, the nozzle for sucking up the grit went 48.8 cm into the ground. The engines to take off again after collection have also ‘disrupted’ the surface material, according to NASA. To assess the changes, photos will be taken, which will be compared with photos of Bennu taken in 2019.
Osiris-REx’s target was 1999 RQ₃₆, or 101955 Bennu, an asteroid about 341 million kilometers from Earth. The boulder is more than 4.5 billion years old. Bennu is therefore characterized by researchers as a ‘cosmic time capsule’ from the earliest phase of the formation of our solar system. These types of asteroids are made of the building blocks from which all planets were formed 4.5 billion years ago. Studying them through chemical analysis can increase our knowledge of the solar system. In addition, it is believed that these types of asteroids played an important role in the origin of life on Earth, by supplying organic material and considerable amounts of water. To substantiate this, scientists hope to find complex carbon compounds, among other things.