NASA’s OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security–Regolith Explorer) spacecraft has returned after years in space. The probe dropped a capsule with approximately 250 grams of rocks and dust collected from asteroid Bennu and continues now towards asteroid 99942 Apophis with a new name, OSIRIS-APEX.
OSIRIS-REx was launched on 8 September 2016, flew past Earth on 22 September 2017, and rendezvoused with Bennu on 3 December 2018.
It spent the next two years analyzing the surface to find a suitable site from which to extract a sample. On 20 October 2020, OSIRIS-REx touched down on Bennu and successfully collected a sample. OSIRIS-REx departed Bennu on 10 May 2021 and reached its home planet now on Sunday 24 September.
The sample capsule landed at the US Department of Defense’s Utah Test and Training Range near Salt Lake City at 8:52 a.m. local time (MDT), 14:52 UTC.
The capsule was transported by helicopter to a temporary clean room set up in a hangar on the training range, where it now is connected to a continuous flow of nitrogen.
Nitrogen is a gas that doesn’t interact with most other chemicals, and a continuous flow of it into the sample container inside the capsule will keep out earthly contaminants to leave the sample pure for scientific analyses.
The returned samples collected from Bennu will help scientists worldwide make discoveries to better understand planet formation and the origin of organics and water that led to life on Earth, as well as benefit all of humanity by learning more about potentially hazardous asteroids.