NASA is preparing to launch its first mission to return a sample of an asteroid to Earth. The mission will help scientists investigate how planets formed and how life began, as well as improve our understanding of asteroids that could impact Earth. The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft will travel to the near-Earth asteroid Bennu and bring a sample back to Earth for intensive study.
Launch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. EDT Thursday, 8th September from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Geoff Yoder, acting associate administrator for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, commented: “This mission exemplifies our nation’s quest to boldly go and study our solar system and beyond to better understand the universe and our place in it. NASA science is the greatest engine of scientific discovery on the planet and OSIRIS-REx embodies our directorate’s goal to innovate, explore, discover and inspire.”
The 2,110kg (4,650lb) fully-fuelled spacecraft will launch aboard an Atlas V 411 rocket during a 34-day launch period that begins 8th September and reach its asteroid target in 2018. After a careful survey of Bennu to characterise the asteroid and locate the most promising sample sites, OSIRIS-REx will collect between 60 and 2,000g (2 and 70oz) of surface material with its robotic arm and return the sample to Earth via a detachable capsule in 2023.
"The launch of OSIRIS-REx is the beginning a seven-year journey to return pristine samples from asteroid Bennu," said OSIRIS-REx Principal Investigator Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson. "The team has built an amazing spacecraft, and we are well-equipped to investigate Bennu and return with our scientific treasure."
OSIRIS-REx has five instruments to explore Bennu:
Additionally, the spacecraft has two systems that will enable the sample collection and return:
"Our upcoming launch is the culmination of a tremendous amount of effort from an extremely dedicated team of scientists, engineers, technicians, finance and support personnel," said OSIRIS-REx Project Manager Mike Donnelly at Goddard. "I'm incredibly proud of this team and look forward to launching the mission's journey to Bennu and back."
Goddard provides overall mission management, systems engineering and safety & mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Lockheed Martin Space Systems built the spacecraft. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is the principal investigator. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA's New Frontiers Program. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages New Frontiers for the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
Image credit: NASA