NASA’s Asteroid Sample Return Mission, OSIRIS-REx.

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx blasted off on its deep space adventure September 18, 2016, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. The OSIRIS-REx satellite is on a multi-year mission to the asteroid Bennu, where the spacecraft, in 2018, will begin to map its surface and even collect samples of the space rock to bring back to Earth. The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will return the asteroid samples in 2023. These asteroid samples will be used by scientist to learn more about our solar system.

View a 360-degree virtual reality image of the OSIRIS-REx inside the NASA clean room before being encapsulated inside the Atlas V payload fairings.

OSIRIS-REx spacecraft inside the PHSF at the Kennedy Space Center.

OSIRIS-REx spacecraft inside the PHSF at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Biz360Tours

Where is the Asteroid Sample Return Mission?

After launching from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in 2016, OSIRIS-Rex’s adventure had just begun. It will have to travel for a few more years before it can reach Bennu, in 2018, and then start surveying the asteroid, taking a regolith sample and then finally begin its journey home to Earth in 2023.

OSIRIS-REx photographs the Earth and the Moon
This black-and-white image of the Earth-Moon system was captured on Sept. 25, 2017, by NavCam 1, one of three cameras that comprise TAGCAMS (the Touch-and-Go Camera System) on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. At the time this image was taken, the spacecraft was retreating from Earth after performing an Earth Gravity Assist maneuver on Sept. 22. Earth and the Moon are shown 249,000 miles (401,200 kilometers) apart, and the spacecraft is 804,000 miles (1,297,000 kilometers) from Earth and 735,000 miles (1,185,000 kilometers) from the Moon.
Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

OSIRIS-REx is expected to reach its target, Bennu in December of this year. Currently, the spacecraft is 29.6 million miles from Earth and is executing a program designed to study and reduce the presence of water on the spaceship.

What does OSIRIS-REx stand for?

OSIRIS-REx is an acronym that incorporates the mission’s primary concepts and goals. When the mission was first being formed, then-Deputy Principal Investigator Dante Lauretta was working to define the science investigation for an asteroid sample return mission. In writing out a list of the big ideas that the science plan would be based on, Dr. Lauretta realized that they spelled out OSIRIS.

  • O – Origins: Return and analyze a sample of a pristine carbon-rich asteroid to study the nature, history, and distribution of its mineral and organic material.
  • SI – Spectral Interpretation: Define the global properties of a primitive carbon-rich asteroid to allow for direct comparison with existing ground-based telescopic data for all asteroids.
  • RI – Resource Identification: Map the global properties, chemistry, mineralogy of a primitive carbon-rich asteroid to define its geologic and dynamic history and provide context for the returned sample.
  • S – Security: Measure the Yarkovsky Effect* on a potentially hazardous asteroid and learn which asteroid properties contribute to this effect.
    *A force caused by the emission of heat from a rotating asteroid that can change its orbit over time
  • REx – Regolith Explorer: Document the texture, morphology, geochemistry, and spectral properties of the regolith (surface material) at the sampling site.

View more images of the OSIRIS-REx inside the clean room at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

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