NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, after a successful mission to the near-Earth asteroid Bennu, is set to deliver its first asteroid sample to Earth on Sunday, September 24, 2023. The spacecraft’s live coverage will commence at 10 a.m. EDT on NASA TV, the NASA app, and the official NASA website, available for viewers at “https://www.nasa.gov/live“. For Spanish-speaking audiences, the landing event will also be broadcasted on various platforms, including Facebook and YouTube, starting at the same time.
“To ensure the sample’s safe descent, it’s crucial that OSIRIS-REx travels at the precise speed and direction,” highlighting the importance of the spacecraft’s trajectory for a successful landing on the U.S. Department of Defense’s Utah Test and Training Range. Mission leadership will provide insights into the spacecraft’s final trajectory adjustments and the anticipated processes for the capsule’s entry, descent, landing, and subsequent recovery operations in Utah’s western desert.
A post-landing news conference is scheduled for around 5 p.m. EDT, where updates will be shared once the sample capsule reaches a temporary clean room on the military range. Media professionals wishing to pose questions during the conference are instructed to forward their details to Alana Johnson at “[email protected]” at least two hours prior to the event. Before the landing, NASA will conduct a media call at 3 p.m. EDT on Friday, September 22, to offer a status update on the mission. The call will feature insights from experts including Lori Glaze, director of the Planetary Sciences Division at NASA Headquarters, and Dante Lauretta, the OSIRIS-REx principal investigator from the University of Arizona.
On the same day, NASA will facilitate remote interviews with the OSIRIS-REx team, using video chat platforms like Zoom, starting from 6 a.m. EDT. The U.S. Postal Service is set to unveil a stamp featuring OSIRIS-REx during a ceremony at Clark Planetarium in Salt Lake City at 11 a.m. MDT on September 22.
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland oversees the overall mission management, systems engineering, and safety protocols for OSIRIS-REx. The University of Arizona leads the mission’s scientific observations, data processing, and has Dante Lauretta as the principal investigator. Lockheed Martin Space, based in Colorado, constructed the spacecraft and is in charge of its flight operations. The sample, once it lands on Earth, will be curated at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. International collaborations for this mission include contributions from the Canadian Space Agency and a sample science partnership with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Hayabusa2 mission. OSIRIS-REx is a part of NASA’s New Frontiers Program, managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.
On September 17, NASA made adjustments to the spacecraft’s trajectory, shifting it nearly 8 miles eastward to fine-tune the landing site for the sample capsule. This modification ensures the capsule’s descent into its designated landing zone within the Defense Department’s Utah Test and Training Range. The spacecraft’s recent maneuver was a refinement of a critical adjustment made on September 10, setting the path for the sample capsule’s release from a distance of 63,000 miles above Earth.
Launched in September 2016, OSIRIS-REx reached its target, Bennu, on December 3, 2018, after over two years of space travel. “The Touch-And-Go (TAG) maneuver on October 20, 2020, was a pivotal moment, allowing us to collect an estimated 8.8 ounces of asteroid material,” said Nicole Lunning, OSIRIS-REx curation lead at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. The spacecraft began its return journey to Earth on May 10, 2021, with the sample set to touch down on September 24.
Bennu, discovered in 1999, orbits the sun in 1.2 Earth-years and has a potential collision risk with Earth between 2178 and 2290, with the highest probability on September 24, 2182. OSIRIS-REx collected at least 0.12 lbs. of material from Bennu in 2020, over 200 million miles away from Earth, marking a significant milestone for NASA. The sample capsule is expected to land at the Utah Test and Training Range, west of Salt Lake City, at 7:42 a.m. PDT, and will later be transported to NASA’s Johnson Space Center for global distribution and analysis.
This mission, capturing the essence of space exploration and scientific discovery, showcases NASA’s commitment to understanding the origins of our solar system and the potential secrets held by asteroid samples.