NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft Views Sample Return Capsule’s Departure

After years of anticipation and hard work by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security – Regolith Explorer) team, a capsule of rocks and dust collected from asteroid Bennu returned to Earth on Sept. 24 in a targeted area of the Department of Defense’s Utah Test and Training Range near Salt Lake City.

A few hours before the landing, OSIRIS-REx took some of its final views of its own sample return capsule.

a vaguely muffin-shaped capsule, with a copper-brown base and an off-white top, against the black backdrop of space

This image of the OSIRIS-REx sample return capsule still attached to the spacecraft’s instrument deck was captured by the spacecraft’s StowCam camera on Sept. 23 at 10:37:55 a.m. EDT (14:37:55 UTC), less than 24 hours before the capsule’s release. StowCam, a color imager, is one of three cameras comprising TAGCAMS (the Touch-and-Go Camera System), which is part of OSIRIS-REx’s guidance, navigation, and control system. TAGCAMS was designed, built, and tested by Malin Space Science Systems; Lockheed Martin integrated TAGCAMS to the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft and operates TAGCAMS. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/Lockheed Martin

black and white sequence of a circular capsule spinning away from the POV of the camera, with a bright-white sunglare at the top of the frame

This black-and-white sequence of OSIRIS-REx’s sample return capsule descent toward Earth comes from TAGCAMS’s NavCam 1 and was taken in the moments after the capsule’s release from the spacecraft on Sept. 24, 2023. The Sun is visible at the top of the frame, and a thin “crescent Earth” can be seen at the left edge of the image. OSIRIS-REx’s NavCams are used for optical navigation of the spacecraft. NavCam images tracked star-fields and landmarks on Bennu to determine the spacecraft’s position during mission operations. This sequence of images has been processed to remove most of the scattered sunlight, bring out more detail of the capsule and release debris cloud, and prevent the Earth crescent from saturating. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona/Lockheed Martin

Looking like an inverted chocolate cupcake, the returned OSIRIS-REx sample capsule rests on gray-brown desert sand, a distant mountain ridge in the background

Charred from its journey through Earth’s atmosphere, the OSIRIS-REx sample return capsule is shown here shortly following its landing on Sept. 24 in Utah’s Great Salt Lake Desert. Shortly after this photo was taken, the capsule was transported to a temporary clean room at the Department of Defense’s Utah Test and Training Range, and then flown on Sept. 26 to Houston and transported to NASA’s Johnson Space Center there. Credit: NASA/Keegan Barber

Following a flight aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 aircraft on Sept. 26, the OSIRIS-REx sample return capsule was taken into a customized clean room at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Meanwhile, the OSIRIS-APEX spacecraft – on a new mission with a new name – is on a course toward asteroid Apophis, which it will reach in 2029.

The OSIRIS-REx Sample Canister Lid is Removed

NASA scientists found dark powder and sand-sized particles on the avionics deck of the OSIRIS-REx science canister when the initial lid was removed today. The canister from the OSIRIS-REx sample return capsule was delivered to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston on Sept. 25 after landing in the Utah desert on Sept. 24. Johnson houses the world’s largest collection of astromaterials, and curation experts there will perform the intricate disassembly of the Touch and Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) to get down to the bulk sample within. These operations are happening in a new laboratory designed specifically for the OSIRIS-REx mission. The aluminum lid was removed inside a glovebox designed to enable working with the large piece of hardware.

Lockheed Martin Recovery Specialists, Levi Hanish and Michael Kaye remove the lid of the sample return cannister. Credit: NASA/Robert Markowiz 
Lockheed Martin Recovery Specialists Levi Hanish and Michael Kaye remove the lid of the sample return canister. Credit: NASA/Robert Markowiz

When the TAGSAM is separated from the canister, it will be inserted in a sealed transfer container to preserve a nitrogen environment for up to about two hours. This container allows enough time for the team to insert the TAGSAM into another unique glovebox. Ultimately, this speeds up the disassembly process. There is a very high level of focus from the team — the sample will be revealed with an amazing amount of precision to accommodate delicate hardware removal so as not to come into contact with the sample inside.

With an array of team members on deck, scientists and engineers at Johnson will work together to complete the disassembly process and reveal the sample to the world in a special live broadcast event on Oct. 11 at 11 a.m. ET, streamed at

Shaneequa Vereen
NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston