Update for September 24: Gianluca Masi, an astrophysicist with the Virtual Telescope Project, successfully discovered NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft before its sample capsule landed. You can watch the video above.
OSIRIS-REx is on track to land its capsule 10:55 a.m. EDT (1455 GMT) In the Utah desert, a team of NASA scientists and engineers awaits. You can watch it live on Space.com 10 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT).
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will fly past Earth this weekend, returning a sample collected from asteroid Bennu on Sunday (Sept. 24).
Fingers crossed that space enthusiasts will be able to watch the first part of this historic sample return mission — where NASA collected material from an asteroid and brought it home — live and for free. That’s if all goes according to Italian astrophysicist and astronomer Gianluca Masi and his virtual telescope project.
“I am thrilled and excited to announce that the Virtual Telescope Project will attempt to share images from NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft in real time, 12 hours before the release of its precious sample return capsule with Bennu asteroid samples,” Masi told Space.com in an email.
A live broadcast has been set up Saturday (Sept. 23) begins at 7 p.m. EDT (2300 GMT). You can watch it live here on Space.com or at Virtual Telescope Project website. (Be aware that weather or other factors may affect the plan to observe the OSIRIS-REx probe from the ground.)
Live Notifications: OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Model Return Landing
Related: How NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Will Bring Asteroid Samples to Earth in 5 Easy Steps
OSIRIS-REx launched in September 2016 from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket for a two-year journey to the 1,720-foot (524-meter) wide asteroid 101955 Bennu. After reaching the asteroid in August 2018, the spacecraft observed Bennu’s surface for another two years.
After this probe was completed, the spacecraft got close enough to Bennu’s surface to retrieve the material — and was nearly swallowed up in the process. In 2021, with the Bennu samples stored in the sample return capsule, OSIRIS-REx fired its propulsion system and began its 1.2 billion mile (1.9 billion kilometer) journey.
When it arrives later this week, the spacecraft will jettison its sample return canister and head back toward another asteroid from the vicinity of our planet. The canister is supposed to land on Earth’s surface in the western United States in the desert area surrounding the U.S. Army’s Utah Test and Training Range.
Asteroids like Bennu formed about 4.5 billion years ago, when the Solar System’s planets were born from leftover material from planet formation. That means studying asteroid material can help reveal the state and composition of matter around the infant Sun in the early solar system.
For two years after sample return, from late 2023 to 2025, the sample will be cataloged and analyzed. According to NASA. At least 75% of the Bennu sample will be preserved at NASA’s Johnson Space Flight Center in Houston for future research.
“OSIRIS-REx’s many accomplishments demonstrate the bold and innovative way that exploration can unfold in real time,” said Associate Administrator for Science at NASA Headquarters. Thomas Surbusen said. “A prime piece of our solar system has returned to Earth, where generations of researchers can unlock its secrets.”
While this research is conducted with Bennu, OSIRIS-REx, renamed OSIRIS-APEX, will travel to the near-Earth asteroid Apophis and settle into orbit around the 1,200-foot (370 meter) wide space rock by 2029.