Spaceflight Insider

OSIRIS-REx cameras delivered for integration and testing

Osiris rex launches sample back to Earth NASA image posted on SpaceFlight Insider

Image Credit: NASA

When it comes to a sample mission to asteroids, the U.S. lags behind Japan. So far, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has launched two missions to collect parts of an asteroid. The first, named Hayabusa, safely returned samples to Earth back in November 2010. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is now building the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) – NASA’s first asteroid sample mission.

Cameras for Osiris Rex NASA photo posted on SpaceFlight Insider

The University of Arizona’s camera suite, OCAMS, sits on a test bench that mimics its arrangement on the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. The three cameras that compose the instrument – MapCam (left), PolyCam and SamCam – are the eyes of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission. They will map the asteroid Bennu, help choose a sample site, and ensure that the sample is correctly stowed on the spacecraft. Caption & Photo Credit: University of Arizona / Symeon Platts

A suite of three cameras that should allow OSIRIS-REx to see a near-Earth asteroid, map it, and pick a safe and interesting place to touch the surface and collect a sample, has arrived at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver for installation to the spacecraft.

“This is another major step in preparing for our mission,” said Mike Donnelly, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “With the delivery of the camera suite to the spacecraft contractor, we will have our full complement of cameras and spectrometers.”

The OSIRIS-REx mission is scheduled to launch in September 2016 atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 411 booster from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) in Florida. Its primary mission is to study Bennu, a near-Earth asteroid that measures about one-third of a mile (approximately 500 meters) across.

After rendezvousing with Bennu in 2018, the spacecraft will survey the asteroid, obtain a sample, and return it to Earth in 2023. This is the first U.S. mission to sample an asteroid returning the largest sample from space since the Apollo lunar missions.

The three camera instrument suite, known as OCAMS (OSIRIS-REx Camera Suite), was designed and built by the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory.

The largest of the cameras, PolyCam, is a small telescope that will acquire the first images of Bennu from a distance of 1.2 million miles (2 million kilometers) and provide high resolution imaging of the sample site. MapCam will search for satellites and dust plumes around Bennu, map the asteroid in color, and provide images to construct topographic maps. SamCam will document the sample acquisition event and the collected sample.

“PolyCam, MapCam, and SamCam will be our mission’s eyes at Bennu,” said Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “OCAMS will provide the imagery we need to complete our mission while the spacecraft is at the asteroid.”

OSIRIS-REx is designed to examine Bennu and look for clues to the Solar System’s origin. It is possible that organic molecules and water similar to those that may have seeded life on Earth may be found. Additionally, the data gathered will help scientists as they study ways to mitigate potentially deadly asteroid impacts with Earth.

“The most important goal of these cameras is to maximize our ability to successfully return a sample,” said OCAMS instrument scientist Bashar Rizk from the University of Arizona, Tucson. “Our mission requires a lot of activities during one trip – navigation, mapping, reconnaissance, sample site selection, and sampling.  While we are there, we need the ability to continuously see what is happening around the asteroid in order to make real-time decisions.”


Joe Latrell is a life-long avid space enthusiast having created his own rocket company in Roswell, NM in addition to other consumer space endeavors. He continues to design, build and launch his own rockets and has a passion to see the next generation excited about the opportunities of space exploration. Joe lends his experiences from the corporate and small business arenas to organizations such as Teachers In Space, Inc. He is also actively engaged in his church investing his many skills to assist this and other non-profit endeavors.

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