NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft begins a two-year journey home with asteroid debris

On Monday, NASA’s spacecraft stuffed the gravel of an asteroid inside, ignited the engine, and started a long journey back to Earth, leaving the ancient space rock in the rearview mirror. in.

The return trip of the robot prospector OSIRIS-REx will take two years.

OSIRIS-REx reached the asteroid Bennu in 2018 and flew in and around it for two years before collecting rubble from its surface last fall.

Dante Lauretta, the chief scientist at the University of Arizona, estimates that the spacecraft can hold 200 to 400 grams, mostly bite-sized pieces. Either way, it can easily exceed the target of at least 60 grams.

Since Apollo landed on the moon, this will be the largest cosmic transportation in the United States. Although NASA returned samples of comet dust and solar wind, this is the first time it has chased asteroid debris. Japan has completed it twice, but the number is very small.

Watch | NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft collects asteroid samples:

NASA’s spacecraft descended to an asteroid, hit the surface in an instant, and collected a small amount of cosmic dust. The chief scientist of the asteroid surface mapping instrument, Michael Daly, answered some questions from the two special guests. 18:44

Scientists describe the departure from Bennu’s neighbor on Monday as bittersweet.

NASA project scientist Jason Dworkin said: “Since my daughter wore diapers, I have been trying to retrieve samples from the asteroid.” “Now she is graduating from high school, so it is a long journey. “

On Monday afternoon, OSIRIS-REx launched its main engine to Bennu, which is orbited by the sun, to achieve a fast and clean escape, which has been nearly 300 kilometers.

Spacecraft manufacturer Lockheed Martin’s flight controller in Colorado applauded as the spacecraft departed and confirmed its arrival: “We are bringing the samples home!”

Scientists hope to discover some of the secrets of the solar system in samples taken from Bennu’s dark, rough, carbon-rich surface last October. The asteroid is estimated to be 490 meters wide.

Bennu is believed to be a broken piece from a larger asteroid and is believed to preserve the well-preserved components of the solar system. The returned debris can reveal how planets are formed and how life grows on Earth. They can also increase the earth’s chances of resisting any incoming rocks.

Although the asteroid is 287 million kilometers apart, OSIRIS-REx will add another 2.3 billion kilometers to its odometer to catch up with the earth.

This SUV-sized spacecraft will orbit the sun twice, and then deliver its small sample capsule to the desert ground in Utah on September 24, 2023, to end the mission of more than $800 million. It was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida in 2016.

These precious samples will be stored in a new laboratory at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, which has housed hundreds of kilograms of lunar material collected by 12 Apollo lunar landers from 1969 to 1972.

Initially, scientists believed that the spacecraft had stored 1 kg of asteroid rubble, but recently revised its estimate downward. They couldn’t determine how many things were on the ship until the touchdown capsule was opened.

Dworkin said: “Everything is valuable.” “We must be patient.”

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