NASA’s first asteroid sampling mission, led by the University of Arizona, launched into space at 7:05 p.m. on 9 Sept. EDT Thursday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, beginning a journey that could revolutionize our understanding of the early solar system.
“With yesterday’s successful launch, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft embarks on a journey of exploration to Bennu,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator and professor of planetary science and cosmochemistry at the UA’s Lunar and Planetary Lab. “I couldn’t be more proud of the team that made this mission a reality, and I can’t wait to see what we will discover at Bennu.”
The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft is designed to rendezvous with, study, and return a sample of the asteroid Bennu to Earth. Asteroids like Bennu are remnants from the formation of our solar system more than 4.5 billion years ago. Scientists suspect that asteroids may have been a source of the water and organic molecules for the early earth and other planetary bodies. An uncontaminated asteroid sample from a known source would enable precise analyses, providing results far beyond what can be achieved by spacecraft-based instruments or by studying meteorites.
OSIRIS-REx separated from its United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at 8:04 p.m. Eastern Time on Thursday. The solar arrays deployed and are now powering the spacecraft.
At 8:20 p.m., NASA Launch Commentator Mike Curie announced: “We’re communicating with the spacecraft. Everything is looking great. Today was a great day for space exploration.”
“Yesterday’s science fiction is now science fact,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “Today, we celebrate a huge milestone for this remarkable mission and mission team, as we probe the origin of our solar system.”
In 2018, OSIRIS-REx will approach Bennu – which is the size of a small mountain – and begin an intricate dance with the asteroid, mapping and studying Bennu in preparation for sample collection. In July 2020, the spacecraft will perform a daring maneuver in which its 11-foot arm will reach out and perform a five-second “high-five” to stir up surface material, collecting at least 2 ounces (60 grams) of small rocks and dust in a sample return container. OSIRIS-REx will return the sample to Earth in September 2023, when it will then be transported to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston for examination.
The OSIRIS-REx mission will be the first U.S. mission to carry samples from an asteroid back to Earth and the largest sample returned from space since the Apollo era. The University of Arizona leads the mission science team and observation planning and provided the OSIRIS-REx Camera Suite (OCAMS) instrument.
“I couldn’t be more proud of all the brilliant faculty and staff who made OSIRIS-REx possible, including the 130 students from 30 different disciplines who have participated in the project,” said UA President Ann Weaver Hart. “This launch makes the UA the only university in the country to lead two major planetary missions. It is an honor and a pleasure to be associated with this incredible university.”
“This is another milestone in the University of Arizona’s long string of successes in helping NASA explore the solar system,” said LPL Director Tim Swindle.
Once the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is successfully launched, the mission’s science operations center shifts to LPL, where it will be managed by the UA’s OSIRIS-REx team. Over the next four years, scientists from around the world will come to Tucson to support mission operations at the UA.
Goddard provides overall mission management, systems engineering and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta is the mission’s principal investigator at the University of Arizona. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver built the spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program. The first, New Horizons sent a spacecraft past Pluto in July last year, and the second, Juno, arrived in orbit at Jupiter this July. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the agency’s New Frontiers Program for its Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Launch and countdown management was the responsibility of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Source: University of Arizona