NASA's OSIRIS-REx returns asteroid samples to Earth
September 26, 2023, 20:00:02 CEST | Wikinews

Tuesday, September 26, 2023 

The sample return capsule on Sunday. Image: NASA.

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Yesterday, a capsule from NASA's Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security – Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft containing samples from the asteroid Bennu arrived in the US city of Houston, Texas. The capsule was en route to the Johnson Space Center (JSC) after landing in the Utah Test and Training Range the day before. This was NASA's first asteroid sample return.

As of Sunday, the capsule was in a cleanroom with the sample container undergoing a nitrogen purge, in which nitrogen is pumped into a container, maintaining the samples' purity from Earth's atmosphere's contamination of them. Staff are to later take apart the container, catalog its contents, and eventually provide samples to scientists in other institutions.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson congratulated the OSIRIS-REx team "on a picture-perfect mission — the first American asteroid sample return in history — which will deepen our understanding of the origin of our solar system and its formation." Nelson also said the samples will lead to better understanding of asteroids that could head for Earth.

OSIRIS-REx launched in September 2016 and arrived at Bennu in December 2018. It spent almost two years mapping the surface while NASA scientists worked to determine the best sample collection site. Samples were collected in October 2020 as the spacecraft used a robotic arm to make contact with the surface and then injected nitrogen gas to kick up material into the spacecraft's receptacle. About 8.8 ounces of the approximately six metric tons of debris was secured. OSIRIS-REx began its return trip to Earth in May 2021.

The sample capsule was dropped at an altitude of 63,000 miles as the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft flew by Earth. It entered the atmosphere at 6:42 EDT and touched down about 10 minutes later. Recovery teams used radar and other instruments to track the capsule. Personnel secured the capsule to ready its transport to JSC.

Since its launch in 2016, OSIRIS-REx has traveled 3.86 billion miles. With the sample-return phase complete, the spacecraft will continue on to the asteroid Apophis. To reflect the change in purpose, the mission has been renamed to OSIRIS-APEX ("Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-APophis EXplorer").

An artist's impression of OSIRIS-REx at Bennu. Image: NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center.

101955 Bennu. Image: NASA.

Have an opinion on this story? Share it!

Mike Wall. "OSIRIS-REx's asteroid sample lands in Houston (photos)" —, September 25, 2023
Claire O'Shea. "NASA’s First Asteroid Sample Has Landed, Now Secure in Clean Room" — NASA, September 24, 2023
Ashley Strickland. "A long-awaited asteroid sample has landed in the US" — CNN, September 24, 2023
Jeff Hecht. "Asteroid Bennu Almost Swallowed Spacecraft Whole" — Sky & Telescope, July 14, 2022

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