Status: 24.09.2023, 12:25 p.m.
By: Tanja Banner
The Nasa probe "Osiris-Rex" was on the road for seven years, and now it is to drop soil samples from an asteroid on Earth. The research is exciting.
Utah – One day in the year 2182, the asteroid "Bennu" will come very close to Earth. Then there is a small chance that it will hit the earth. But the probability of this is minimal and the date is a long way off – "Bennu" is currently the focus of attention for another reason: On Sunday (24 September), NASA's Osiris-Rex spacecraft will drop a capsule with soil samples from "Bennu" over Earth.
"Osiris-Rex" has a long journey behind it: Launched in 2016, the probe took two years to reach the asteroid at all. She then circled and explored it for two years before taking a soil sample in a daring manoeuvre in October 2020. This sample is sealed in a capsule that "Osiris-Rex" will drop on Sunday during a flyby of Earth at an altitude of 102,000 kilometers.
|Schedule of the Osiris-Rex landing on September 24|
|12:42 p.m. (CEST):||The Osiris-Rex spacecraft releases the capsule - if the mission team has previously given the go.|
|13:02 p.m. (CEST):||Osiris-Rex launches the engines to move on their new trajectory - away from Earth and towards the asteroid Apophis.|
|16:42 p.m. (CEST):||The capsule enters the Earth's atmosphere at an altitude of about 132 kilometers. It has a speed of about 44,500 km/h.|
|16:43 p.m. (CEST):||The capsule now reaches the highest temperature during re-entry. It is now 2760 degrees Celsius.|
|16:44 p.m. (CEST):||The parachute is deployed at an altitude of about 31 kilometers and stabilizes the capsule.|
|16:45 p.m. (CEST):||Even though the Osiris-Rex space probe is to move away from Earth, it will come particularly close to Earth at this time: there are only 779 kilometers between the probe and Earth.|
|16:50 p.m. (CEST):||The main parachute of the capsule now opens at an altitude of about 1,6 kilometers.|
|16:55 p.m. (CEST):||The capsule of the Osiris-Rex spacecraft lands on Earth - hopefully with a lot of material from the asteroid Bennu.|
NASA probe "Osiris-Rex" throws soil sample from asteroid "Bennu" to Earth
Four hours later, the capsule will enter the Earth's atmosphere, where it will be exposed to very high temperatures. It then takes 13 minutes to land with the help of a parachute at a test site of the US Department of Defense in the US state of Utah. Once the capsule has come down, it is collected by specialists and immediately taken by helicopter to a clean room. Subsequently, the material will be subjected to initial tests and distributed to researchers.
Seven years and seven billion kilometres will then lie behind the capsule – why does research on a soil sample take so much effort? It has to do with where the soil sample comes from: from an asteroid. These celestial bodies are considered "time capsules" from the time of the formation of the solar system, as asteroids already existed at that time. Their material was preserved by the vacuum in space and can now shed light on how the solar system and planets were formed.
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What the researchers hope to gain from the asteroid soil sample
But asteroids are more than that: researchers suspect that celestial bodies were involved in making life on Earth possible. There is a suspicion that rocks from space – such as asteroids and meteorites – brought water and possibly also "building blocks of life" such as carbon to Earth. The research wants to investigate these assumptions and requires asteroid material that has not come into contact with the Earth. "Osiris-Rex" will supply this material.
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Last test before the emergency: A model of the capsule glides to the ground on a parachute over the desert in Utah. NASA's Osiris-Rex probe will drop the capsule on Sunday (24 September) at an altitude of around 102,000 kilometres – it will land with the help of a parachute. © dpa/Nasa/Keegan Barber
However, the spacecraft will not land on Earth. It has received another mission from the US space agency Nasa and will ignite its engines to change its trajectory just a few minutes after the capsule is dropped. The new target of the spacecraft, which will then be called "Osiris Apex", is the asteroid "Apophis". It will come very close to Earth in 2029.
For a long time, researchers assumed that "Apophis" would one day collide with Earth. This danger has now been dispelled, but the asteroid is still of interest to researchers. However, "Osiris-Apex" will not be able to take soil samples from "Apophis" – after all, the return capsule will already be on Earth. (tab)