NASA's Asteroid-Sampling Mission: OSIRIS REx, Set To Launch On Sept. 8

First Posted: Sep 06, 2016 04:37 AM EDT

NASA has set the launch date of its first asteroid-sampling mission, the OSIRIS REx spacecraft on September 8 with the hopes of harvesting a large quantity of samples from the near-Earth asteroid 'Bennu'.

The agency's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is scheduled to launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on Sept. 8 from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. If all goes according to plan, the probe will return a pristine sample of the potentially hazardous space rock Bennu to Earth in September 2023, reported.

"We seek samples that date back to the very dawn of our solar system," OSIRIS-REx principal investigator Dante Lauretta, a professor of planetary science and cosmochemistry at the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, said during a news conference on Aug. 17.

The Mission

The Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) team is keen to hunt for organic molecules in the material the spacecraft sends home. The spacecraft which carries five scientific instruments aims to learn more about the valuable resources that Bennu-like asteroids may possess, the team members said.

The probe will also provide a detailed characterization of the Yarkovsky effect, which describes how small objects' paths through space are altered by the solar energy they radiate away as heat. "When that happens, it acts like a thruster and changes the trajectory of the asteroid," Lauretta said. "If you want to be able to predict where an object like Bennu is going to be in the future, you have to account for this phenomenon, and we're going to provide the best-ever scientific investigation of this fascinating concept."

Such information is particularly relevant for potentially hazardous asteroids such as Bennu. There's a 0.037 percent chance that Bennu will hit Earth in the late 22nd century, NASA scientists say. The mission, if everything goes as planned, would see the spacecraft intersect the asteroid on its orbit, which would take about 2 years, and make a return trip to Earth. It is expected that OSIRIS-REx would touchdown to Earth in September 2023.

The team at NASA would have a daunting task ahead of them, as when the initial contact between Bennu and the spacecraft, the team would have to communicate with their equipment which would reach OSIRIS-REx after 14 mins, Nature reported.

In addition to the delayed relay of data, the manner of harvesting the material would only be enough for three attempts."It really is a great adventure. We're going out into the unknown, we're bringing back scientific treasure," Lauretta said. "For me, looking forward to the day in 2023 when we open up that sample return capsule is what's driven me for the past 12 years and what's going to keep this going for the next seven."

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