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NASA’s OSIRIS-REx finished, moves to environment testing in lead up to 2016 launch

NASA OSIRIS-REx Solar Array Lockheed Martin photo posted on SpaceFlight Insider

Lockheed Martin has finished constructing NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft – it will now move on to environmental testing. (Click to enlarge.) Photo Credit: Lockheed Martin

NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft has entered the environmental testing phase after it was finished being assembled. The spacecraft, currently being tested at Lockheed Martin Space Systems facilities near Denver, Colorado, is scheduled to start its journey to the near-Earth asteroid Bennu late next year (2016).

“OSIRIS-REx is entering environmental testing on schedule, on budget, and with schedule reserves,” said Mike Donnelly, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “This allows us to have flexibility if any concerns arise during final launch preparations.”

This is just the beginning of the testing stage for OSIRIS-REx, which will last for five months. During that time, it will be subjected to various conditions that will simulate the environment en route to its destination, including extreme temperatures, vibrations, and the vacuum of space. Also being tested are scenarios surrounding the shock of separation and deployment required during any of these missions – as well as other conditions that may be present during its two-year expedition to Bennu.

These tests are crucial to the success of the mission, ensuring that the spacecraft is not only fit for flight but also fit to endure the longevity of the journey and mission itself. The rigorous testing will make sure that the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is ready to move on to the next stage.

“This is an exciting time for the program as we now have a completed spacecraft and the team gets to test drive it, in a sense, before we actually fly it to asteroid Bennu,” Rich Kuhns, OSIRIS-REx program manager at Lockheed Martin Space Systems said through a release issued by the company. “The environmental test phase is an important time in the mission as it will reveal any issues with the spacecraft and instruments, while here on Earth, before we send it into deep space.”

After testing has been completed in May of 2016, the spacecraft will be handed over to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Once in Florida, OSIRIS-REx will then undergo final preparations for the launch, remaining there until September.

The Lockheed Martin-built spacecraft is slated to become the first U.S. mission that will be returning asteroid samples to Earth. It is following in the footsteps of other recent asteroid missions such as the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) Hayabusa-2 that launched in 2014. Hayabusa-2 is currently on its way to the asteroid Ryugu (formally known as 1999 JU3) where it too will collect samples.

After the scheduled launch in September, OSIRIS-REx will begin a two-year trip to the near-Earth asteroid to collect approximately 2.1 ounces (60 grams) worth of samples. This will be the largest sample returned from space since 1976 when the then Soviet Union’s Luna 24 returned 6 ounces (170 grams) of lunar soil.

After collecting its samples, OSIRIS-REx is then scheduled to return to Earth sometime in 2023. The broader goal for OSIRIS-REx is to aid in the ongoing investigation of how near-Earth asteroids could impact our planet in the future. These samples may also be able to help scientists unlock answers to the origins of life and how planets were formed.

Video Courtesy of NASA Goddard


Britt Rawcliffe is a professional freelance aerospace and aviation photographer based out of Pennsylvania with over six years of professional photographic experience. Her creative imagery has spanned into all areas relating to space, including launches, photojournalism, architecture, and portraiture. Britt’s passion for history has been a common thread in much of her work, including having photographed many Moonwalkers such as Buzz Aldrin and Gene Cernan.

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