National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) has announced that the return journey of its asteroid-sampling OSIRIS-REx probe is being delayed by two months. In a statement on Tuesday, the American space agency said that the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft will leave asteroid Bennu and begin its journey back to Earth on May 10, 2021. Earlier, the spacecraft was supposed to leave the asteroid on March 3, 2021.
NASA also mentioned that in the sample collection event that took place on October 20, 2020, the spacecraft collected a substantial amount of material from Bennu’s surface that exceeded the mission’s requirement of 60 grams.
OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will finally touch down on earth on September 24, 2023. Michael Moreau, OSIRIS-REx deputy project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland said in a statement that leaving Bennu’s surface in May will give them an apt chance when the departure manoeuvre will take up the least amount of the spacecraft’s onboard fuel. He also mentioned with over 265 meters per second of velocity change, this will be the largest propulsive manoeuvre conducted by OSIRIS-REx since the approach to Bennu in October 2018.
The spacecraft will remain close to asteroid Bennu and enter its Earth Return Cruise phase on May 10, 2021. OSIRIS-REx will jettison the Sample Return Capsule (SRC) as it will come closer to Earth in 2023. The SRC will then travel through the Earth’s atmosphere and land under parachutes at the Utah Test and Training Range. NASA will transport the capsule with asteroid samples to the curation facility at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston and distribute it to laboratories worldwide. The scientists will then study the formation of the solar system and Earth as a habitable planet. Scientists will also investigate how planets formed and how life began, as well as improve the understanding of asteroids that could impact Earth.
NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex will join the two other missions: Japan’s Hayabusa 2 that brought samples from asteroid Ryugu and China’s Chang'e 5 mission that will bring samples from the lunar surface.
Japan’s Hayabusa2 mission returned to earth six years after it was sent on the mission. The spacecraft reached its stationary position above the asteroid Ryugu in June 2018 after travelling 3.2bn km on an orbit around the sun for more than three years. Meanwhile, China’s Chang e 5 mission will be collecting samples from the moon and also test technologies that will be needed for future missions to the Moon as well as Mars.