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Space agency estimates its space probe will reach the distant asteroid around 5pm GMT (12pm EST) today. But this is not the end of the road for OSIRIS-REx just yet because the space probe will not touch down for at least another six months or so. NASA’s spacecraft blasted off towards the giant asteroid on September 8, 2016, and is now completing its 815-day-long trek through space. And it will take another four years for the spacecraft to return back to Earth with dust samples collected from Bennu’s surface.

When will NASA’s OSIRIS-REx land on asteroid Bennu?

NASA hopes to collect regolith samples from the surface of the 1,614ft-wide (492m) rock sometime around mid-2020.

During a brief five second-window, OSIRIS-REx will dip down to the space rock and “TAG” the asteroid with its Touch-and-Go-Sample-Acquisition-Mechanism (TAGSAM).

The spacecraft will swiftly scoop up samples of dust during up to three TAG attempts, to collect as much regolith as possible.

On its first attempt, OSIRIS-REx will swoop down more than 410ft (125m) from its orbit around Bennu.

NASA explained: “After the spacecraft fires its thruster to back-away from Bennu, the mission team will measure the amount of sample collected by spinning the spacecraft with the TAGSAM arm extended.

OSIRIS-REx will fist spend up to a year in the depths of space before it blasts off on an Earth-bound trajectory in March 2021.

The samples will then make their way to Earth by September 24, 2023.

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A quarter of the collected asteroid dust will be analysed at NASA’s laboratories in the US.

To foster good spirit and cooperation within the scientific community, the remaining asteroid dust will be donated to scientific institutions around the globe.

NASA said: “OSIRIS-REx launched in September 2016 and has been slowly approaching Bennu.

“The spacecraft will spend almost a year surveying the asteroid with five scientific instruments with the goal of selecting a location that is safe and scientifically interesting to collect the sample.

“OSIRIS-REx will return the sample to Earth in September 2023.”

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