While the capsule was on its descent, the parent OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, which started its space journey in 2016, charted a new course. Its next destination? The asteroid Apophis.
In a monumental achievement for space exploration, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft safely returned to Earth, bringing with it precious samples from the asteroid Bennu. These samples hold clues to the origins of our solar system and possibly life on Earth.
On September 24, the return capsule of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx touched down at the Utah Test and Training Range under the oversight of the United States Department of Defense. This return was meticulously controlled, bringing back 250 grams of dust and rock samples. These untouched materials from Bennu could potentially unravel mysteries about our solar system’s beginnings approximately 4.5 billion years ago.
In anticipation of its landing, NASA had powered up the spacecraft earlier in the day, ensuring a precise trajectory for the capsule’s touchdown. The capsule initiated its separation at 10:42 UTC, still 102,000 kilometers away from Earth.
OSIRIS-REx’s New Quest
While the capsule was on its descent, the parent OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, which started its space journey in 2016, charted a new course. Its next destination? The asteroid Apophis. In 2029, it plans to embark on an 18-month mission, observing and studying Apophis’s orbit closely.
Entering Earth’s upper atmosphere at a blistering speed of 43,450 kilometers per hour (equivalent to 36 times the speed of sound), the capsule was safeguarded by a thermal shield. This shield combated temperatures hotter than volcanic lava, a result of intense air friction. Ensuring a controlled descent, a braking parachute was released, slowing the capsule from hypersonic to subsonic speeds. At a mere 1,600 meters above ground, the main parachute took over, guiding the capsule gently to its landing site.
Upon the capsule’s successful landing, a dedicated team was quick to assess its condition. Their primary goal: retrieve and safeguard the Bennu samples. These samples will soon be transported to a specialized lab at the NASA Johnson Center in Houston. Apart from analyzing the samples, researchers will also study the landing mechanics, refining strategies for future space missions.
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