American Probe OSIRIS-REx Bennu left the asteroid’s orbit to begin its return journey to Earth on Monday.
There is still a long way to go: it will not land in the Utah desert in the United States until September 24, 2023.
Dante Loretta, who is in charge of the mission, said in a video broadcast of the NASA event that the investigation “is now moving more than 950 km per hour from Bennu on the way home.”
The actuators of the machine were engaged for seven minutes without incident to make the thrust necessary to keep the probe in the correct trajectory. The next 2.3 billion kilometers will cross the earth after the final voyage.
OSIRIS-REx brings “more than 60 grams” of dust and fragments of the asteroid, the largest specimen collected by NASA from lunar rocks brought back by the Apollo missions.
To achieve this result, the US space agency conducted a high-risk operation in October 2020: the probe came into contact with the asteroid’s soil for a few seconds, and the dust was lifted by a nitrogen explosion.
Surprise: The arm of the probe sank several centimeters into the surface of the asteroid, which scientists have actually learned is “very rarely formed,” says Dante Loretta.
Almost everything failed when NASA realized a few days later that the flap of the collection compartment had failed to close, allowing the fragments to escape into space.
But the cargo finally ended safely, transferred from the probe arm into the capsule and fixed in the middle of it.
In two and a half years, the cartridge will be released a few hours before entering the Earth’s atmosphere and slowed down by a parachute system for its landing.
The models will be transported to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, but 75% will be kept intact “with technologies not yet created for future generations to study.”
Their analysis will help scientists better understand the formation of the solar system and Earth as a habitable planet.