A US space probe that has collected material from an asteroid is heading back to Earth. The OSIRIS-REx will turn its back on the space rock Bennu on Monday.
After a long flight, it will land on Earth in September 2023, after which scientists can study the grit.
The OSIRIS-REx had sucked up about 60 grams of pebbles and dust from the surface of the potato-shaped asteroid Bennu in October. That happened nearly 333 million kilometres from Earth. The asteroid samples are collected in a container on board the probe.
Scientists want to study the grit to get a better picture of the origin of our solar system, and they may find clues to the origin of life on Earth. It is the first time for Americans to collect material from an asteroid. She preceded Japan with the missions Hayabusa and Hayabusa2.
The engines of the OSIRIS-REx have to start working on Monday around 10 p.m. Dutch time so that the probe flies away from the asteroid. The return flight will take more than two years. This means that the craft should not fly to Earth but to where the Earth will be in 2023.
To get there, it will circle the sun twice and travel a distance of 2.3 billion kilometres. On September 24, 2023, the capsule must land cautiously in the US state of Utah.
The OSIRIS-REx was launched in 2016. The mission costs about $ 1 billion.