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“Osiris-Rex” space probe: Asteroid sample lands in US

“Osiris-Rex” space probe: Asteroid sample lands in US

As of: September 24, 2023 6:06 PM

A capsule containing material from an asteroid has landed in the US state of Utah. It was dropped by the Osiris-Rex spacecraft. It has covered billions of kilometers since 2016. Now the researchers have to analyze the samples.

The largest asteroid sample ever collected has arrived safely in the US. “The multibillion-mile journey to and from asteroid Bennu has come to an end,” a NASA spokesperson said during a live broadcast of the landing. The American space probe “Osiris-Rex” dropped it from space at an altitude of 100,000 kilometers four hours ago.

The parachute-braked, sampled capsule touched down in the desert of the US state of Utah, as live images from the US space agency showed. The capsule is estimated to contain about 250 grams of debris collected from the asteroid three years ago.

Insights into the origins of the solar system

After landing, the material will be taken to NASA laboratories in the US state of Texas for analysis – where about 200 scientists are working on the sample using 60 different selection methods. Only 25 percent is analyzed immediately, and the rest is saved for better-equipped researchers in the future.

Asteroids are formed from the material from which the Solar System formed 4.5 billion years ago. Scientists believe that “Bennu” is rich in carbon and contains water molecules trapped in minerals. It is about 550 meters in diameter and may come closest to Earth in a good 150 years. Although the risk of impact is very low, NASA considers “Bennu” to be one of the most dangerous asteroids currently known – and therefore wants to study it in detail.

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The probe flies to the next asteroid

“Osiris-Rex” (acronym for: Appearance, Spectral Description, Resource Identification, Conservation-Regolith Explorer) was launched from the Cape Canaveral Space Station in September 2016 and arrived at “Bennu” two years later. In October 2020, the probe — the first U.S. launch vehicle in space history — took a sample from an asteroid in a complex maneuver that lasted several hours. In 2005, the Japanese space probe “Hayabusa” landed on an asteroid. In 2010, the first such sky-collected soil samples were brought back to Earth.

The approximately six meter long and 2,100 kg “Osiris-Rex” probe left for the next asteroid “Apophis” immediately after its release. According to calculations, the asteroid with a diameter of about 370 meters will fly past the Earth in 2029 at a distance of about 32,000 kilometers, so it can be examined closely for the first time. The mission has already been extended by at least nine years – and now has a new name: “Osiris Apex”.