NASA’s asteroid-sampling mission will bid farewell to asteroid Bennu today

Good News Notes:

After more than two years circling a lumpy space rock called Bennu, it’s finally time for NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to head back to Earth with a full load precious cargo: pieces of an asteroid.

OSIRIS-REx (known formally as Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer) collected asteroid samples from Bennu in October. Now it’s time to bring those samples home to laboratories on Earth for scientists to study to understand how asteroids, and our solar system, formed.

If all goes as planned, OSIRIS-REx will head for home today (May 10) at about 4 p.m. EDT (2000 GMT); mission team members are expecting to receive confirmation about 16 minutes later that the spacecraft’s thrusters began to fire. NASA will broadcast live coverage from mission control, including new images from the spacecraft’s final pass over Bennu, today beginning at 4 p.m. EDT. You can watch live here at courtesy of NASA or watch the agency’s coverage directly.

NASA launched the $800-million mission in 2016 as the first U.S. asteroid sample-collection mission. The probe, which follows two successful Japanese missions to sample asteroids, collected more than 2.1 ounces (60 grams) of samples from Bennu in the fall of 2020. OSIRIS-REx will deliver that material in 2023. 

But first, the spacecraft must leave Bennu.

To do that, OSIRIS-REx will fire its thrusters for about seven minutes today in order to change its speed by nearly 600 mph (1,000 kph), according to a NASA statement. All told, the long journey home will cover about 1.4 billion miles (2.3 billion kilometers), since OSIRIS-REx must circle the sun twice to get from Bennu to Earth.

The maneuver should put the spacecraft on course to intersect with Earth’s orbit, dropping its sample capsule in Utah on Sept. 24, 2023. The main spacecraft may be sent onto a new destination — in particular, its trajectory aligns conveniently for a visit to the large near-Earth asteroid Apophis in 2029, mission scientists have realized…..”

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