NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid probe returning tomorrow

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will pass Earth this weekend, returning a sample gathered from the potentially hazardous asteroid Bennu on Sunday (Sept. 24). Fingers crossed that space enthusiasts may be able to watch the first part of this historic sample return mission  —  the first time NASA has collected material from an asteroid and brought it home — live and for free online. That is if all goes according to plan for Italian astrophysicist and astronomer Gianluca Masi and his Virtual Telescope Project.

“I’m very pleased and excited to announce that the Virtual Telescope Project will try to share, in real-time, images of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft 12 hours before it releases its precious Sample Return Capsule with samples of asteroid Bennu,” Masi said in an email to The livestream is set to start at 7 p.m. EDT (2300 GMT) on Saturday (Sept. 23). Watch it live here at or on the Virtual Telescope Project’s website. (Be aware that weather conditions or other factors could affect the project being able to observe OSIRIS-REx probe from the ground.)

OSIRIS-REx launched from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida in September 2016 atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, beginning what would be a two-year voyage to the 1,720-foot (524 meter) wide asteroid 101955 Bennu. After reaching the asteroid in August 2018, the spacecraft spent another two years observing Bennu’s surface

When this survey was completed, the spacecraft got close enough to the surface of Bennu to recover material   —  and almost got swallowed up in the process. In 2021, with the Bennu samples stored in a sample return capsule, OSIRIS-REx fired up its propulsion system and began a 1.2 billion-mile (1.9 billion-kilometer) trip back home. 

When it arrives this weekend, the spacecraft will jettison its sample return canister and then leave the vicinity of our planet again, heading out to a different asteroid. The canister should land on the surface of Earth in the western United States in the desert region around the U.S. military’s Utah Test and Training Range.

Comment: The retrieval of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft should rank right up there with the Mars landers in importance, although it surely won’t be as photogenic. Certainly not as exciting as a launch. Dr. Gianluca Masi at the Virtual Telescope Project is sure geeking out over it on the above 30 minute video showing only various views of a far away point of light. NASA will be live streaming the landing starting at 10 AM tomorrow morning. There should at least be some excitement in the control room.

This will be quite an accomplishment and, as I believe, will affirm the future of space exploration as robotic rather than manned. Even eventual Lunar and Mars permanent settlements will be mostly robotic with manned visits being more caretaker than exploratory.


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10 Responses to NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid probe returning tomorrow

  1. KjHeart says:

    Space Ship!!!! Sqquuueeeeee!

    Total Fan-Girl of anything astronomy and space exploration.

    Thanks for this great article and links.


    PS endless source of Rare Earth Minerals in the Kuiper Belt – just sayin we (Earth humans) will have no shortage of these resources within a few generations.

    • d74 says:

      If you don’t think about the costs, it’s actually comforting for the future.
      But, but Newton… But Newton is there in ambush. All that remains is to invent an anti-gravity technology. And there you have it.

  2. d74 says:

    “space exploration as robotic rather than manned”

    Man in space is a hindrance because it’s too costly.

    • Peter Hug says:

      Once the SpaceX Starship is operational (and I remain confident that they will eventually get there), imagine the unmanned science missions you could create if you can put 250 tons of payload into LEO with the ability to go anywhere in the Solar System after the primary ship gets refueled in orbit. It will just be completely game changing

  3. Whitewall says:

    Got it! Fantastic from the America that still works like America.

  4. leith says:

    I slept in and missed the NASA telecast of the landing. My question is why Bennu? Why not other asteroids? There are many bigger ones both in volume or mass.

    PS – when will they tell the results of testing the sample?

    • TTG says:


      Good question and obviously one that’s been asked before. Here’s the answer.,ideal%20OSIRIS%2DREx%20target%20asteroid.

      I watched a lot of the broadcast. The exuberance and excitement was there and it was even infectious. The actual recovery was quite strange, almost a primitive ritual. The lead scientist examined the small capsule and the landing site by walking in ever widening circles while a second scientist began taking readings. This was all because the landing site was in an impact area. It was planned this way.

      • leith says:

        Thanks TTG

        BTW I’m heading down the Oregon coast on 14 October to see a solar eclipse. It’s an annular one. Weather permitting I’ll take photos if I can jury rig one of those disposable eyeglass lens to my phone. Joining up with a bunch of other old vets for the occasion at breakfast and using it as a fundraiser for a local chapter.

  5. jim.. says:

    Lockheed Martin Built the Rocket Space Craft System.Denver,Colorado weighing 2 tons…sent it 3.8 billion miles in 2016…Landed on That Asteroid landed on a very Small Parking spot.S urface was Very Rough…Blast Nitrogen into the recover 500 grams into the Recovery Cylinder that just Landed..took off in 2021..flew 3.8 billion miles back to earth..and landed next to a road with Utah..and the origional space ship is flying off from orbit to another Asteroid.
    ..OSIRIS REx..A Mission to Determine if Asteroids brought Seeds and Life Building Blocks to Earth…Aha…Forget Creation.Obama Roids..2016..
    …Amazing….Since Very Few of Our F 35 Jets are ever Mission ready..about 50 percent its Reported…and The systems are reported to be very Venerable to hacking and manipulation. According to published reports..

    Too Much Sci Fi for Me to Believe..Because NASA says so ..But The Graphics are Great.


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