OSIRIS-REx is leaving Bennu for good.

Yesterday, NASAs OSIRIS-REx spacecraft passed by the asteroid Bennu for the last time, ending its two-and-a-half-year relationship with the space rock. But OSIRIS-REx is still lingering in the asteroids vicinity, as if hesitant to embark on its roughly 200-million-mile return to Earth. That trip will begin in early May.
OSIRIS-REx is carrying precious samples from the asteroid and should arrive back on Earth on September 24, 2023.
Leaving Bennus vicinity in May puts us in the sweet spot, when the departure maneuver will consume the least amount of the spacecrafts onboard fuel, said Michael Moreau, a deputy project manager for the OSIRIS-REx mission at NASAs Goddard Space Flight Center in a statement. Moreau added that it the largest propulsive maneuver the spacecraft engaged in since first approaching Bennu in October 2018.
As OSIRIS-REx departed its familiar orbit, it captured images of the asteroids surface from about 2 miles away. NASA researchers hope these will show how Bennus surface changed after OSIRIS-RExs sample collection, which required the spacecraft blast material off the rocks surface.
The Touch and Go (TAG) sample collection on October 20, 2020 was a success, but the team added the flyby to their departure schedule to get a look at how they may have altered the asteroid surface. The flyby was nearly six hours, covering more than a full rotation of the asteroid.
By surveying the distribution of the excavated material around the TAG site, we will learn more about the nature of the surface and subsurface materials along with the mechanical properties of the asteroid, said Dante Lauretta, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona and the principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx, in a NASA press release.
Well be staying tuned for those latest images, which should come out in about a week. The spacecraft shares the antennae for Earthbound communiques with the Perseverance rover, which is also busy sending back messages at the moment. So it may take some time.
Theres about a month to go before OSIRIS-REx begins its return trip. Hopefully those last asteroid images will be enough to keep us intrigued until September 2023.