NASA is about to embark on its first mission to sample an asteroid—and I’ll have a front-row seat to the launch!
On Thursday, Sept. 8, at 7:05 p.m. (23:05 UTC) the launch window opens for the launch of OSIRIS-REx, NASA’s mission to visit the near-Earth asteroid Bennu, orbit and map it, collect a sample and return it to Earth. The 8-foot-wide, 20-foot-long spacecraft will launch aboard a ULA Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral AFS and as a member of the latest NASA Social event I and 99 other attendees will be at the Cape to see it off on its 7-year journey. Be sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram to see pictures and videos from the two-day event on Sept. 7–8, and follow the #NASASocial hashtag on Twitter too!
OSIRIS-REx is an acronym for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security-Regolith Explorer. The solar-powered spacecraft will spend two years traveling to the 1,600-foot-wide (about a third of a mile) asteroid Bennu, then spend a year mapping it via laser altimeter. In July 2020 it will use a sampling tool at the end of a long arm to retrieve at least 60g (2 oz.) of surface material, which will be placed in a return capsule. OSIRIS-REx will depart Bennu in March of 2021 and travel back to Earth, jettisoning the sample capsule for ground retrieval in Sept. 2023.
OSIRIS-REx will give us our best look yet at a near-Earth asteroid and ultimately allow us to learn what our neighborhood of the Solar System was like during Earth’s formation, over four and a half billion years ago.
“The primary objective of the mission is to bring back 60 grams of pristine carbon-rich material from the surface of Bennu,” said Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for the OSIRIS-REx mission at the University of Arizona. “We expect these samples will contain organic molecules from the early solar system that may give us information and clues to the origin of life.”
OSIRIS-REx will also provide valuable, unprecedented data on how asteroids behave in orbit, and how their trajectories change over time due to the effect of radiating heat gathered from sunlight—i.e., the Yarkovsky Effect.
Personally I’m looking forward to the launch itself AND getting a chance to get “behind-the-scenes” at Kennedy Space Center, where NASA is not only going to an asteroid but also getting ready for its future Journey to Mars with the Orion crew capsule and massive Space Launch System.
Learn more about the OSIRIS-REx mission and asteroid Bennu in the video below and on NASA’s mission page here.
UPDATE 9/8/16: It’s launch day! OSIRIS-REx will launch tonight at 7:05 p.m. EDT, beginning its seven-year journey to Bennu. (Watch the event live on NASA TV here.) Below is a photo of the Atlas V 411 that will send it on its way, captured from just north of the LC-41 site along Playalinda Beach during the rocket’s rollout on the morning of Sept. 7. (Click for full scale.)