An unmanned spacecraft carrying a 4.5-billion-year-old asteroid sample is set to touch down on Earth after a years-long expedition.
The sample – the third ever extracted from a space rock cruising through the solar system – is the largest ever brought back to the planet and will be studied by scientists around the world after the OSIRIS-REx lands in the desert of the US state of Utah on Sunday.
The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) is an unmanned spacecraft from NASA that was sent to collect samples from Bennu.
The spacecraft was equipped with cameras to capture images that were essential to collecting samples from the asteroid during the mission. It was also equipped with materials to develop 3D maps of Bennu, measure its temperature, map its mineral and chemical composition, and view it in X-rays and infrared light.
The robotic arm attached to the spacecraft collected loose rocks and dirt from the asteroid’s surface, which were then sealed inside the sample return capsule.
This capsule separated from the spacecraft and began its fiery plunge through Earth’s atmosphere.