OSIRIS-REx team completes final test before asteroid sample delivery

September 6, 2023 -
Principal Investigator Dante Lauretta examines a model of the sample capsule.

OSIRIS-REx principal investigator Dante Lauretta examines a replica of the sample capsule, consisting of the heatshield (white) and the back shell (tan), following a successful drop test. (Chris Richards/University Communications)

Members of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample recovery team gathered in Utah’s West Desert this week to participate in final preparations for the arrival of the first U.S.-collected asteroid sample, slated to land on Earth later this month.

The team includes mission principal investigator Dante Lauretta, a University of Arizona Regents Professor of Planetary Sciences, and Anjani Polit, a senior systems engineer with the university’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory who serves as mission implementation systems engineer for the OSIRIS-REx mission.

A mockup of the OSIRIS-REx sample capsule was dropped from an aircraft Wednesday and landed at the drop zone at the Department of Defense’s Utah Test and Training Range in the desert outside Salt Lake City. This was part of the mission’s final major test prior to the Sept. 24 arrival of the actual capsule containing a sample of asteroid Bennu collected in space almost three years ago.

“We are now mere weeks away from receiving a piece of solar system history on Earth, and this successful drop test ensures we’re ready,” said Nicola Fox, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C.

The drop test followed a series of earlier rehearsals – focused on capsule recovery, spacecraft engineering operations and sample curation procedures – conducted in the spring and earlier this summer.

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft collected a sample from asteroid Bennu in October 2020. Stowed safely inside the spacecraft’s sample return capsule, it will land in Utah via parachute.

Researchers will study the sample in the coming years to learn about how our planet and solar system formed and about the origin of organics that may have led to life on Earth.

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