usaNASAOnespaceThe capsule’s seven-year journey will reach its final climax when it lands in the United States on the 24thutahdesert and the largest asteroid sample ever brought back to Earth.
Agence France-Presse reports that scientists have high hopes for the sample, saying it will help us understand more about the formation of the solar system and how Earth became habitable.
The capsule launched by the spacecraft “Osiris-Rex” will encounter scorching temperatures during its final descent through the Earth’s atmosphere. This would be very dangerous, but NASA hopes it was able to make a soft landing at a military test site in the northwest. At approximately 9 a.m. Utah local time (15:00 GMT).
Osiris was launched in 2016. Four years later, it collected about 250 grams of dust samples from the rocky surface of asteroid Bennu.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said that even such a small sample size would “help us better understand the types of asteroids that could threaten Earth” and reveal “the early history of the Solar System.”
“The sample brought back this time is of historical significance because it is the largest sample we have brought back to Earth since the Apollo missions obtained moon rocks,” NASA scientist Amy Simon told AFP.
But he also acknowledged that returning the space capsule to Earth would require a “dangerous operation.”
Osiris plans to release the capsule from an altitude of more than 108,000 kilometers four hours before landing.
The hot phase of the journey through the atmosphere will occur only in the last 13 minutes, when the capsule will accelerate downwards at speeds of more than 27,000 mph (about 43,452 kph), and temperatures will reach 2,760 degrees Celsius.
Military sensors will monitor its rapid descent, and then it will open two parachutes to slow down. If there is a problem with the parachute, a “hard landing” will occur.
If it turns out that it may miss the target landing zone, NASA controllers may decide at the last minute not to release the capsule.
The space probe will retain the sample and orbit the sun again, and scientists will have to wait until 2025 to try to land the sample again.
If the plan is successful, Osiris will head to another asteroid.