A NASA space capsule carrying the largest soil sample ever collected from the surface of an asteroid has landed in the Utah desert seven years after the mission’s launch.

“We have a touchdown!” Flight Control announced this on Sunday.

The gumdrop-shaped capsule, released from the robotic spacecraft OSIRIS-REx as the mothership passed within 108,000km (67,000 miles) of Earth hours earlier, touched down within a designated landing zone west of Salt Lake City on the United States military’s vast Utah Test and Training Range.

The samples will be flown on Monday to a new lab at NASA’s Johnson Space Centre in Houston. The building already houses nearly 400kg (842lb) of moon rocks gathered by the Apollo astronauts more than a half-century ago.

Scientists estimated the capsule holds at least a cup of rubble from the carbon-rich asteroid known as Bennu but won’t know for sure until the container is opened.

Japan, the only other country to bring back asteroid samples, gathered about a teaspoon from a pair of asteroid missions.

The mission’s lead scientist, Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, will accompany the samples to Texas. The opening of the container in Houston in the next day or two will be “the real moment of truth”, given the uncertainty over the amount inside, he said ahead of the landing.