NASA’s Osiris-REx returns to Earth after five years with samples of asteroid

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NASA has set asteroid probe Osiris-REx back in motion for the first time since 2018. The probe thus leaves the Bennu asteroid and returns to Earth, arriving here in two and a half years with bits of debris and dust from the asteroid on board.

NASA restarted the Osiris-REx engines and ignited them at full power for seven minutes, moving the probe away from Bennu and returning to Earth at a speed of several thousand kilometers per hour. It was according to NASA the probe’s first significant maneuver since 2018, when Osiris-REx arrived at the asteroid.

On September 24, the spacecraft should reach Earth, after first making two orbits around the sun in Venus’ orbit. The probe then ejects the capsule containing pieces of asteroid so that it can reach Earth’s atmosphere and land with a parachute in the US state of Utah. The spacecraft itself will remain at a distance of ten thousand kilometers from Earth and should still have enough fuel by 2023. This summer, NASA is looking at whether it can deploy Osiris-REx on a new mission to an asteroid.

NASA launched Osiris-REx on September 8, 2016, and the spacecraft reached 1999 RQ₃₆, or 101955 Bennu on December 3, 2018. The probe orbited the asteroid on December 31, 2018, and successfully approached the asteroid on October 21 last year. Then the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism was able to suck up grit with its arm and mouthpiece, which will be analyzed on return to Earth.

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