On 2023-09-24 NASA expects its OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to return a sample collected from the carbonaceous asteroid 101955 Bennu in October 2020. The sample collected is believed to be between 400 and 1000 grams, but may be as small as 60 grams. The spacecraft will release its sample return capsule on a trajectory to hit the Earth’s atmosphere at 14:42 UTC on 2023-09-24, and it is expected to land at around 15:00 UTC in the Utah desert.
After releasing the sample capsule, the main spacecraft bus will make a trajectory correction causing it to miss the Earth and perform a gravity assist sending it toward a rendezvous with near-Earth and potentially hazardous asteroid 99942 Apophis in April 2029, when it will enter an orbit around the asteroid for 18 months of observations.
NASA’s live Webcast of the sample return landing will start at 14:00 UTC on 2023-09-24.
I’ll be wearing my Yogi Berra catcher’s mitt in observance.
Here it comes!
(Grrrr! Image is too big for Discourse to upload. Click link to display.)
Image captured by The Virtual Telescope Project 2.0.
The image above comes from the combination of 14, 60-second unfiltered exposures, remotely taken with the Celestron C14+Paramount ME+SBIG ST8-XME robotic unit available as part of the Virtual Telescope Project facility in Manciano, Italy.
We relied on our advanced telescope Paramount ME mount, pointing and tracking the spacecraft thanks to the ephemerides provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Horizons service.
At the imaging time, OSIRIS-REx was extremely low (14 degrees!) above our Southern horizon, with wind and clouds. Despite this, we could clearly spot it and share the view with thousands of people from all around the planet in real time. Using the same set of frames, we managed to create the time-lapse above.
The sample return capsule has separated from the spacecraft bus, and “Newton is in the driver’s seat” from here on. The carrier spacecraft has performed its divert maneuver and is headed for its Earth fly-by on the way to Apophis in 2029.
Live stream starts at 14:00 UTC on 2023-09-24.
Earlier, a telescope at Siding Spring, Australia captured the separation of of the OSIRIS-REx sample return capsule from the main spacecraft bus. The spacecraft was a 14th magnitude object at the time. This is around the brightness of Pluto as seen from the Earth, and 725 times dimmer than the dimmest star visible to the naked eye under perfect dark sky conditions.
On 2023-10-11 NASA held a presentation at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas to reveal the sample returned from asteroid 101955 Bennu.
Here are scanning electron microscope images of material in the sample, rich in carbon compounds, water, and iron.