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NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft primed and ready for voyage to Bennu

United Launch Alliance Atlas V 411 Kennedy Space Center Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx).

NASA revealed the agency’s new Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft was displayed to the media during an event held by NASA on Saturday, August 20, 2016. Photo Credit: Michael Howard / SpaceFlight Insider

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) probe could rewrite what is known about planetary formation as well as how life might have gotten its start on Earth. NASA recently highlighted the spacecraft’s mission during an event held at KSC’s Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility on Saturday, Aug. 20, 2016.

When fully-fueled, OSIRIS-REx will weigh in at about 4,650 pounds (2,110 kilograms) and will begin its journey to asteroid 101955 Bennu. Once there, in 2018, it will work to collect somewhere between 2 to 60 ounces (approximately 60 to 2,000 grams) using the spacecraft’s robotic arm. If everything goes as advertised, a detachable capsule will return this sample back to Earth sometime in 2023.

United Launch Alliance Atlas V 411 Kennedy Space Center Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx).

OSIRIS-REx is scheduled to be launched to astronaut Bennu early next month (September of 2016). Photo Credit: Michael Howard / SpaceFlight Insider

“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. “The team has built an amazing spacecraft, and we are well-equipped to investigate Bennu and return with our scientific treasure.”

Bennu was discovered by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) in September of 1999 and  has a mean diameter of approximately 1,614 feet (492 meters).

OSIRIS-REx has five primary scientific instruments that it will use to study the Apollo-class asteroid. NASA describes these as the following:

  • OSIRIS-REx Camera Suite (OCAMS) – A system consisting of three cameras provided by the University of Arizona, Tucson, will observe Bennu and provide global imaging, sample site imaging, and will witness the sampling event.
  • OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA) – A scanning LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) contributed by the Canadian Space Agency will be used to measure the distance between the spacecraft and Bennu’s surface, and will map the shape of the asteroid.
  • OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer (OTES) – An instrument provided by Arizona State University in Tempe that will investigate mineral abundances and provide temperature information with observations in the thermal infrared spectrum.
  • OSIRIS-REx Visible and Infrared Spectrometer (OVIRS) – An instrument provided by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland and designed to measure visible and infrared light from Bennu to identify mineral and organic material.
  • Regolith X-ray Imaging Spectrometer (REXIS) – A student experiment provided by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University in Cambridge, which will observe the X-ray spectrum to identify chemical elements on Bennu’s surface and their abundances.

In terms of the sample-return aspect of the mission, OSIRIS-REx has had some special additions to allow a portion of the asteroid to be brought back to awaiting scientists back on Earth. Two core systems are integrated into the spacecraft to help it achieve this goal.

  • Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) – An articulated robotic arm with a sampler head, provided by Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver, to collect a sample of Bennu’s surface.
  • OSIRIS-REx Sample Return Capsule (SRC) – A capsule with a heat shield and parachutes in which the spacecraft will return the asteroid sample to Earth, provided by Lockheed Martin.

The mission is slated to launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 411 rocket at 7:05 p.m. EDT, on Thursday, Sept. 8, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 in Florida. To get it ready to touch the surface of the tiny remnant of the Solar System’s formation, the spacecraft has to be kept hyper-clean.

“Typically, we’d just trying to make sure that the instrument works so that they [scientists working on the mission] can do their science, in this case, the contamination that could get into the sample, would limit their ability to find life origins and the sources of which that they are trying to determine,” Chris Lorentson, a contamination engineer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland told SpaceFlight Insider.  “All living beings that we are aware of have DNA and we’re looking for indicators that there may have been life on these rocks prior to us finding them.”

United Launch Alliance Atlas V 411 Kennedy Space Center Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx).

An engineer works on the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft prior to its planned Sept. 8, 2016, launch. Photo Credit: Michael Howard / SpaceFlight Insider

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Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

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