May 23, 2016 – NASA’s first spacecraft designed to return a piece of an asteroid is beginning final preparations in advance of its September launch aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 411 rocket. On May 20, Lockheed Martin delivered the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
OSIRIS-REx, which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, is scheduled to launch on September 8, 2016. The spacecraft’s target is Bennu, a carbon-rich asteroid that could hold clues to the origin of the solar system and host organic molecules that may have seeded life on Earth. It will collect at least 60 grams (2.1 ounces) — about the weight of a full-sized candy bar—of pristine asteroid material and return it to Earth for analysis.
Lockheed Martin designed, built and tested the spacecraft and is responsible for spacecraft launch processing and mission operations.
“Delivering OSIRIS-REx to the launch site marks an important milestone, one that’s been many years in the making,” said Rich Kuhns, OSIRIS-REx program manager at Lockheed Martin Space Systems. “The spacecraft has undergone a rigorous environmental test program in Denver but we still have plenty of work ahead of us. Many on our team have temporarily moved to Florida so they can continue final processing and have the spacecraft ready for launch in three and a half months.”
Over the weekend, the team transferred the spacecraft from the shipping container into a cleanroom and performed post-ship inspections to confirm that OSIRIS-REx arrived in good condition. The spacecraft is ready to begin its final round of testing and pre-launch checks, which are scheduled to commence later today when it will be installed onto a spin balance fixture. Further checks prior to launch will include software tests, instrument and power functional tests, spacecraft self-tests and deployments of the spacecraft’s solar panels.
While at Kennedy, the spacecraft will undergo final testing and configuration for flight including propellant loading.
“I’m extremely proud of our team,” said Mike Donnelly, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “We still have a few major milestones to go, but I’m confident that we’ll get them done and be ready to launch on time and begin our mission to Bennu.”
After launch, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will take two years to reach Bennu, arriving in late 2018. It will then spend over two years conducting surface mapping and sample site reconnaissance before collecting a sample in 2020. The spacecraft will return the pristine sample of Bennu back to Earth in 2023.
“This team has done a phenomenal job of assembling and testing the spacecraft,” said Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “As we begin the final preparations for launch, I am confident that this spacecraft is ready to perform its science operations at Bennu. And I can’t wait to fly it.”
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, 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. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages NASA’s New Frontiers Program for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Launch and countdown management is the responsibility of NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida.