The long flight ends on Sunday, when the spacecraft will jettison the capsule containing the asteroid sample. The capsule will then make a superheated trip through the atmosphere before parachuting in for a soft landing at the US military’s Utah Test and Training Range near Dugway, Utah.
In 2020, the van-size spacecraft performed a “touch-and-go” maneuver — sort of like a chest bump in space — and swiped a few ounces of material from the space rock, which is really a pile of rubble held together by its own gravity. Osiris-Rex lingered around Bennu until 2021, when it started its two-year journey back to Earth.
Mission controllers have been preparing for the capsule’s return for months now. On Sept. 10, NASA reported the spacecraft briefly fired its thrusters to point itself toward Earth. The minor adjustment puts Osiris-Rex on course to release the capsule on a trajectory to enter our atmosphere off the coast of California at 7:42 a.m. PT on the delivery. About 13 minutes later it will touch down southwest of Salt Lake City somewhere in a predetermined area measuring 36 miles by 8.5 miles across.