Recording of a NASA live broadcast: Members of the NASA security team with the probe "Osiris-Rex" in the desert of Utah.
Photo: HANDOUT / AFP
Even the removal of the sample from the asteroid Bennu was spectacular – now it has been brought back in a similarly spectacular way: A debris sample from the asteroid Bennu collected by the NASA probe "Osiris-Rex" and now dropped above the earth has landed in the US state of Utah. Protected by a heat shield and slowed down by parachutes, the capsule touched down with the sample in the desert, as live images from the US space agency Nasa (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) showed.
Capsule dropped 102,000 kilometers above Earth
The NASA scientists in the control center reacted with clapping and cheering when the capsule, which weighs about 46 kilograms and has a diameter of about 81 centimeters, touched down on Earth three minutes earlier than planned. "Osiris-Rex" had dropped the capsule, which looks like a kind of salad bowl with a high lid, a few hours earlier at an altitude of around 102,000 kilometers above Earth.
According to NASA estimates, the capsule contains around 250 grams of debris that were collected from the celestial body about three years ago. It is now to be taken to NASA laboratories in the US state of Texas for examinations, where around 200 scientists will then work on the sample using 60 different examination methods.
Largest sample ever taken
If the contents of the capsule turn out to be as NASA hopes, it would be the first successfully brought sample of an asteroid to Earth in the history of the US space agency – and probably the largest such sample ever taken. In 2005, the Japanese space probe "Hayabusa" landed on an asteroid. In 2010, it brought back to Earth the first soil samples of such a celestial body ever collected. There have been other flights to asteroids, but no other probe has yet returned material to Earth.
"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 about two years later. In October 2020, the probe became the first U.S. spacecraft in space history to sample the asteroid during a complicated maneuver lasting several hours.
A breakdown had also occurred: the lid of the collection container was slightly pried open by larger stones, so that parts of the sample could escape. However, NASA scientists still assume that there is sufficient material in the collection container.
The deep black Bennu, named after an ancient Egyptian deity, has a diameter of around 550 meters and could come quite close to Earth in just over 150 years. Even though the risk of impact is very low, NASA considers Bennu to be one of the most dangerous asteroids currently known and therefore wants to study it very closely. In addition, the scientists hope that the "Osiris-Rex" mission, which will cost around one billion dollars, will provide insights into the formation of the solar system more than 4.5 billion years ago, because such asteroids are remnants of it.
The Osiris Re probe, which is about six meters long and weighs 2100 kilograms, made its way to the next asteroid, Apophis, immediately after the drop. According to calculations, the asteroid with a diameter of around 370 meters will fly past Earth at a distance of around 2029,32 kilometers in 000 and could thus be explored up close for the first time. The mission had already been extended by at least nine years and now bears a new name: "Osiris Apex".