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This fall, we are exploring how space inspires progress. The exploration missions of today will fuel the deep space expeditions of tomorrow. One of these pioneering missions, OSIRIS-Rex, is on its way back to Earth with some precious cargo that just might help us learn more about our solar system.

How did our solar system form? OSIRIS-Rex is on the case, gathering clues millions of miles away.

What is OSIRIS-Rex?

Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer is a bit of a mouthful. So, the spacecraft is more commonly referred to as OSIRIS-Rex.

Essentially, OSIRIS-Rex is an uncrewed deep space exploration spacecraft equipped with five scientific instruments which are designed to sample and study a carbon-rich asteroid.

What is the purpose of the mission?

OSIRIS-Rex journeyed to Bennu to explore the near-Earth asteroid and will return home with a sample for researchers to investigate the origins of life and the formation of our planets and solar system. The mission is part of NASA’s New Frontiers Program.

Check out this video clip from NASA for a brief overview of the mission:

Why Bennu?

Bennu is an ancient near-Earth, carbon-rich asteroid that just may hold important clues to the beginning of our solar system and life itself. Obtaining a sample of its untouched regolith may be the key to unlocking the early history of our solar system.

Where is OSIRIS-Rex now?

OSIRIS-Rex launched on Sept. 8, 2016. Following launch, the spacecraft orbited the sun for one year, and returned briefly to Earth for a gravity assist to reach Bennu. In Aug. 2018, OSIRIS-Rex began its approach to Bennu. Just four months later, the spacecraft arrived at the asteroid.

In 2019, OSIRIS-Rex began searching for potential sample sites. On Oct. 20, 2020, the first-ever sample of an asteroid was collected from sample site “Nightingale” by the robotic arm of OSIRIS-Rex using the “Touch-And-Go” (TAG) technique.

Watch this historic moment captured in the NASA clip below:

OSIRIS-Rex began its long journey back to Earth earlier this year, and is slated to return its invaluable sample in 2023.

Is Bennu a threat to Earth?

According to NASA, Bennu could spell trouble for Earth in the future. While it won’t pose a threat in our lifetime, sometime in the late 22nd century, it could.

Watch the following video clip from NASA on the potential hazard Bennu poses for the future of our planet: