The University of Arizona mission to bring back a sample from an asteroid fired its main engine in space for the first time Wednesday.
The deep-space maneuver will direct OSIRIS-REx back toward Earth from its solar orbit.
Mission scientists tweeted that the spacecraft is now on course for an Earth flyby in September. The spacecraft will use Earth’s gravity to sling it toward the asteroid called Bennu. OSIRIS-REx has been orbiting the sun since its launch in September.
The spacecraft will reach the asteroid in 2018 and spend two years orbiting before inching toward the surface to grab a rocky sample. The sample will be brought to Earth in 2023.
In a news release, NASA said mission engineers are studying data about the maneuver as it's being transmitted to them from the spacecraft. It takes about 10 minutes for data to travel the 56 million miles from the spacecraft's current location to a network of radio telescopes located around the globe.