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NASA's OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return to Earth: Live updates

OSIRIS-REx's asteroid-sample return capsule will land in Utah on Sept. 23 at around 10 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT). Here's the latest.

a sample space capsule parachuting to Earth in a test
(Image: © NASA)

On Sept. 24, 2023, NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission will make history by returning samples of the asteroid Bennu to Earth after seven years in deep space. 

Launched in 2016, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft reached asteroid Bennu in October 2020 and collected samples from the near-Earth asteroid's surface. On Sept. 24, it will return those samples in a special capsule and parachute, with landing set for 10 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT) at Department of Defense's Utah Test and Training Range near Dugway, Utah. See the latest on the asteroid sample-return's approach, landing and sample processing here.

OSIRIS-REx mission | Asteroid BennuWhat are asteroids?


OSIRIS-REx probe spotted in deep space returning asteroid sample to Earth

The European Space Agency's Optical Ground Station telescope in the Canary Islands captured this photo of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid-sampling probe on Sept. 16, 2023, when the spacecraft was 2.9 million miles (4.66 kilometers) from Earth. (Image credit: ESA)

We just got a look at NASA's OSIRIS-REx probe in deep space as it carries its asteroid sample toward Earth.

The European Space Agency's (ESA) Optical Ground Station telescope in the Canary Islands captured an image of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on Sept. 16 as it speeds towards our planet where it will release its sample capsule to land in the Utah desert on Sunday (Sept. 24).

When the image was taken, OSIRIS-REx was 2.9 million miles (4.66 million kilometers) away from Earth, having already journeyed nearly 1 billion miles (1.9 billion kilometers) since leaving asteroid Bennu.

Read more: OSIRIS-REx probe spotted returning asteroid sample to Earth (photo)

How NASA's OSIRIS-REx will bring asteroid samples to Earth

Curious about how NASA plans to return its first asteroid samples to Earth?

The samples of asteroid Bennu currently stored inside a capsule onboard NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft are about to face the bumpiest part of their 1.2 billion-mile (1.9 billion-kilometer) journey to our planet.

There are several key steps in the capsule's landing and recovery in the Utah desert currently scheduled for 10:55 a.m. EDT (1455 GMT) on Sunday (Sept. 24). Read all about how NASA's OSIRIS-REx will bring asteroid samples to Earth in 5 not-so-easy steps.

And while you're at it, submit your favorite rock-related tracks for Third Rock Radio's "Return of the Rock" OSIRIS-REx playlist. Your picks could be chosen and highlighted by NASA's social media channels to celebrate the asteroid sample return!

Read more: How NASA's OSIRIS-REx will bring asteroid samples to Earth in 5 not-so-easy steps

OSIRIS-REx changed how we think about asteroids

When astronomers studied OSIRIS-REx's target asteroid Bennu through telescopes, they thought that the rock would be a solid mass. They were in for a surprise. 

OSIRIS-REx hasn't yet returned its samples of asteroid Bennu, but the mission has already shown that asteroids are much more than just rocks floating through space. In fact, their geology appears surprisingly complex.

As it turns out, Bennu is a "hellscape" of loose gravel and porous, low-density boulders, according to Kevin Walsh, lead scientist of the Regolith Development Working Group of the OSIRIS-REx mission.

The samples of asteroid Bennu taken by NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft are scheduled to return to Earth on Sunday (Sept. 24). 

Related: NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft changed how we think about asteroids. Here's how.

OSIRIS-REx makes final maneuver before Sept. 24 sample delivery

NASA's OSIRIS-REx probe is on track for its historic delivery.

The spacecraft performed one last trajectory-correcting maneuver on Sunday (Sept. 17) to prepare for its Sept. 24 return of its asteroid sample here on Earth. The probe is currently about 1.8 million miles (2.8 million km) away, speeding toward Earth at roughly 14,000 mph (23,000 kph).

When it reaches about 63,000 miles (102,000 km) above Earth on Sunday (Sept. 24), it will send a capsule containing samples of asteroid Bennu down inside of a 36-mile by 8.5-mile target area in the Utah desert, where teams of NASA and U.S. military personnel will be standing by to recover it.

Related: OSIRIS-REx asteroid probe makes final maneuver before Sept. 24 sample delivery

How much asteroid stuff is in OSIRIS-REx?

OSIRIS-REx's descent capsule should descend on Earth on Sunday (Sept. 24), under parachutes in the Utah desert. 

Inside is a precious sample indeed: the spacecraft picked up material from a 1,650-foot-wide (500 meters) near-Earth asteroid named Bennu in October 2020 that likely contains information about the solar system's history. But how much material is in there?

Read more: How much asteroid material is NASA's OSIRIS-REx probe delivering to Earth this weekend?

Here's how asteroid Bennu caught NASA's OSIRIS-REx by surprise

The touchdown of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on asteroid Bennu stirred up a massive wall of debris. (Image credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/CI Lab/Jonathan North)

When NASA's OSIRIS-REx probe arrived at asteroid Bennu in 2018, it didn't look like mission planners had envisioned.

"I really thought we might be in trouble there," the mission's chief scientist Dante Lauretta told Because the asteroid's surface looked so different from how the OSIRIS-REx team thought it would, the spacecraft had to be reprogrammed in order to land on Bennu's loose, gravely surface.

But Bennu still had some more surprises in store for the spacecraft as it touched down to collect a sample. Read about how asteroid Bennu caught NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft by surprise and nearly killed it along the way in our feature here as we countdown to the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft dropping off this cargo at Earth on Sunday, Sept. 24.

Related: How asteroid Bennu caught NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft by surprise and nearly killed it along the way

OSIRIS-REx 1 week from asteroid sample return

This NASA diagram shows how the OSIRIS-REx capsule will return to Earth on Sept. 24 over the course of 4 hours. (Image credit: NASA)

NASA is just one week away from the epic landing of its OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample-return capsule, which is packed with pieces of the asteroid Bennu. The landing, which is on track for Sept. 24, 2023, will mark the end of OSIRIS-REx's primary 7-year mission that began with a launch in 2016 and sample-collection at Bennu in October 2020

Scientists are excited, but also on tenterhooks, as they prepare for OSIRIS-REx's return to Earth. The spacecraft will slam into Earth's atmosphere, protected by a heat shield, and reach speeds of up to 27,000 mph before deploying drogue and main parachutes to slow itself to a more manageable 10 mph. 

As NASA prepares for the OSIRIS-REx landing, check out our latest coverage below and stay tuned for daily updates leading up to the landing itself!

OSIRIS-REx asteroid probe heads toward Earth for Sept. 24 sample delivery
NASA's OSIRIS-REx probe put itself on course toward Earth with a thruster firing on Sept. 10, two weeks before its highly anticipated asteroid-sample delivery.

NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission almost bit the dust — then Queen guitarist Brian May stepped in
That the mission ultimately succeeded is in part due to Queen guitarist Brian May, who meticulously created 3D images of the rubble pile to help the mission leaders identify safe landing spots.

NASA conducts crucial drop test ahead of Sept. 24 arrival of OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample
The OSIRIS-REx team performed a crucial drop test on Wednesday (Aug. 30), practicing what they'll do when the mission's real asteroid sample comes home on Sept. 24.

OSIRIS-REx science chief reveals NASA's 1st asteroid sampling mission nearly didn't make it (exclusive interview)
Dante Lauretta, the chief scientist of NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission, talks about the unexpected challenges of NASA's first asteroid sampling attempt in an exclusive interview.