NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Makes Final Course Adjustment Before Asteroid Sample Delivery

OSIRIS-REx Heads Home

On September 17, NASA adjusted the trajectory of its OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to fine-tune the landing site for its sample capsule due to return to Earth on September 24. This modification, a shift of nearly 8 miles eastward, ensures the capsule’s descent into its designated landing zone in the Defense Department’s Utah Test and Training Range. Credit: NASA

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft fired its thrusters to adjust its trajectory to refine its sample capsule’s landing location on Earth, set for September 24, targeting the Defense Department’s Utah Test and Training Range.

On September 17, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx engineers slightly shifted the spacecraft’s trajectory to refine the landing location of its sample capsule, which the spacecraft will deliver to Earth on September 24. The spacecraft briefly fired its thrusters Sunday to change its velocity by 7 inches per minute (3 millimeters per second) relative to Earth.

This final correction maneuver moved the sample capsule’s predicted landing location east by nearly 8 miles, or 12.5 kilometers, to the center of its predetermined landing zone inside a 36-mile by 8.5-mile (58-kilometer by 14-kilometer) area on the Defense Department’s Utah Test and Training Range.

OSIRIS REx Adjusts Course to Target Sample Capsule Landing Zone

This graphic shows the Earth return trajectory for the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft and for the sample capsule, after the spacecraft releases it above Earth on September 24. The yellow diamonds indicate the dates of spacecraft maneuvers that slightly adjust its trajectory to get it closer, and then pointing at, and then above Earth. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Sunday’s maneuver was a tweak of a critical maneuver on September 10, which set the spacecraft on course to release its sample capsule, with rocks and dust from asteroid Bennu, from 63,000 miles (or 102,000 kilometers) above Earth’s surface this weekend.

The spacecraft is currently about 1.8 million miles, or 2.8 million kilometers, away, traveling at about 14,000 mph (about 23,000 kph) toward Earth.

OSIRIS-REx is NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission. It launched in September 2016 on a journey to explore a near-Earth asteroid called Bennu. The mission’s thrilling finale will take place on September 24, 2023, as a capsule containing the Bennu samples touches down in Utah’s West Desert. Credit: NASA

Launched on September 8, 2016, from Cape Canaveral, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft embarked on a journey to the near-Earth asteroid Bennu. After voyaging through space for over two years, it successfully rendezvoused with its target on December 3, 2018.

Once at Bennu, OSIRIS-REx underwent an extensive period of detailed mapping, allowing scientists to understand the asteroid’s terrain and choose the best location for sample collection. The spacecraft then performed a daring “Touch-And-Go” (TAG) maneuver on October 20, 2020, delicately contacting the asteroid’s surface to gather samples. This crucial operation yielded an estimated 8.8 ounces of rocky material, which will mark the first U.S. asteroid sample upon its return.

Having spent nearly five years in space, OSIRIS-REx initiated its journey home on May 10, 2021, by firing its main engines at full throttle for seven minutes. This propelled it toward Earth, carrying its precious cargo of rocks and dust from Bennu. The eagerly awaited sample is set to land on Earth on September 24.

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