The capsule is scheduled to land by parachute in the desert of the American state of Utah on Sunday at 14:55 GMT, about 13 minutes after penetrating the atmosphere at a speed exceeding the speed of sound by about 35 times, thus culminating a seven-year journey.
NASA officials stated during a press conference on Friday that the weather forecast is favorable and that the automated spacecraft (OSIRIS-REx) is heading to launch the capsule to return the sample taken from the surface of the asteroid “Bennu” to Earth as was planned, without the need to make further adjustments to the flight path. .
Sandra Freund, program manager at Lockheed Martin, which designed and built the spacecraft, said that mission managers expect a “direct” landing at the US Army’s Utah Test and Training Range, west of Salt Lake City.
If successful, the OSIRIS-REx mission will be the third to return a sample from an asteroid, the largest ever, to Earth for analysis after two similar missions by the Japanese Space Agency over the past 13 years.
The mission is a joint effort between NASA and scientists at the University of Arizona.
The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft collected the sample from the carbon-rich asteroid Bennu, which was discovered in 1999 and is classified as a “near-Earth object” because it passes relatively close to our planet every six years.
Scientists estimate the chances of it colliding with Earth at only one in 2,700 in the late twenty-second century.
The diameter of the Bennu asteroid is only 500 meters, which is small compared to the catastrophic Chicxulub asteroid that struck the Earth about 66 million years ago, eliminating the dinosaurs.
The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft was launched in September 2016 and reached the asteroid Bennu in 2018. It then spent nearly two years orbiting the asteroid before getting close enough to extend its robotic arm to its surface on October 20, 2020.
The spacecraft set off on a 1.2 billion mile return trip to Earth in May 2021.
Once it arrives, the sample will be flown to a “clean room” at the test range in Utah for initial examination and then transported to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston to be divided into smaller samples for the benefit of about 200 scientists in 60 laboratories around the world.
At the same time, the main part of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is expected to head to explore another near-Earth asteroid.
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