In the meantime, NASA will track the spacecraft using the agency’s Deep Space Network and will make the required heading corrections on its way to Earth. “We need to make regular corrections to bring the trajectory closer and closer to the Earth’s atmosphere for the release of the sample, and to take into account the small errors that could have accumulated since the last recording”, clarifies Peter Antreasian, leader of navigation OSIRIS-REx at KinetX Aerospace in Simi Valley, California.
The departure date of May 10 was specifically chosen because coincided with the closest alignment of the asteroid Bennu to Earth as it travels through our solar system.
Investigating the early years of our solar system
The OSIRIS-REx mission was launched in 2016 with the goal of holding onto Bennu to collect samples that could help the scientific community discover more about the early days of our solar system. It conducted its landmark rock sampling in October 2020, dodging building-sized rocks to collect pieces from the surface for several seconds before safely backing away.
“We have a primordial piece of our solar system returning to Earth, where many generations of researchers can discover its secrets“said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters.
Asteroids like Bennu are essentially remnants of the solar system formation about 4.5 billion years ago, which means that their chemical composition acts as a window to the more distant past as they are remnants of the early solar system. Hence, the collection of pebble and dust samples could help reveal vital clues about how life formed in the early solar system.
Bennu’s rocks and dust will be housed in a new lab under construction at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, that houses hundreds of kilos of lunar material collected by the 12 moonwalkers of the Apollo missions between 1969 and 1972. NASA will reserve 75% of the samples for future generations to study with technologies not yet created by man.