A capsule containing material from an asteroid has landed in the US state of Utah. It was dropped by the Osiris-Rex spacecraft. Since 2016, she has traveled more than a billion kilometers. Now researchers should examine the rubble.
The largest asteroid sample ever collected has arrived safely in the United States. “A billion-mile journey to the asteroid ‘Bennu’ and back has come to an end,” a NASA spokesman said during the live broadcast of the landing. The US space probe “Osiris-Rex” had dropped it from space about four hours earlier at an altitude of more than 100,000 kilometers.
Braked by parachutes, the capsule with the sample 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 around 250 grams of rubble that was collected from the asteroid around three years ago.
Insights into the beginnings of the solar system
After landing, the material will be taken to NASA laboratories in the US state of Texas for examination – where around 200 scientists are working on the sample using 60 different examination methods. Only 25 percent of the material is analyzed immediately, the rest is saved for better-equipped researchers in the future.
Asteroids are made from the original 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 has a diameter of around 550 meters and could come quite close to Earth in a good 150 years. Even if the risk of impact is very low, NASA considers “Bennu” to be one of the most dangerous asteroids currently known – and therefore wants to research it in detail.
Probe flies on to the next asteroid
“Osiris-Rex” (the abbreviation stands for: Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer) was launched from the Cape Canaveral spaceport in September 2016 and arrived at “Bennu” around two years later. In October 2020, the probe took a sample from the asteroid in a complicated maneuver lasting several hours – the first US missile in space history. In 2005, the Japanese space probe “Hayabusa” landed on an asteroid. In 2010, it brought the first soil samples ever collected from such a celestial body to Earth.
The “Osiris-Rex” probe, which is approximately six meters long and weighs 2,100 kilograms, set off for the next asteroid, “Apophis,” immediately after it was released. According to calculations, the asteroid with a diameter of around 370 meters will fly past Earth at a distance of around 32,000 kilometers in 2029 and could therefore be studied up close for the first time. The mission had already been extended by at least nine years – and now has a new name: “Osiris Apex”.