May 20, 2016 – NASA’s Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security – Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft traveled on an Air Force C-17 from Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado to Kennedy Space Center, Florida today. The spacecraft was built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Littleton, Colorado, and was packed in a shipping container specially engineered for use in the C-17 prior to its move.
Engineers will remove OSIRIS-REx from the container on May 21 and will attach the spacecraft to a rotation fixture for spin testing on May 24-25. A partial solar array deployment test is scheduled for May 31.
OSIRIS-Rex is scheduled to launch September 8 at 5:05 p.m. MDT. The spacecraft will rendezvous with near-Earth asteroid target Bennu (1999 RQ36) in 2018 and begin a lengthy encounter period of comprehensive mapping and study of the asteroid.
The OSIRIS-REx mission is unique because it’s designed to return a pristine sample for analysis on Earth. History is recorded in the asteroids and Bennu is expected to be rich in carbon, which is the building block of life. Studying Bennu will help scientists better understand the origin of our solar system.
“We’re really going back 4.5 billion years in history,” said Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx. “We’re getting rocks that record the processes that were taking place right at the dawn of our solar system, when the planets were being born and the materials that would go into those planets were being formed.”
In addition to a touch-and-go sample acquisition mechanism and a sample return capsule, the spacecraft will carry a laser altimeter; a suite of cameras; spectrometers; and lidar, which is similar to radar, using light instead of radio waves to measure distance.
During the encounter period, OSIRIS-REx will photograph the asteroid and use its instruments to map the global properties, chemistry and mineralogy. Scientists will analyze the data to determine the best possible location for OSIRIS-REx to retrieve a sample of the asteroid’s regolith, the loose soil and rocky material found on its surface. At a minimum, the craft is expected to return a 2.1 ounce sample back to Earth, where it will be studied by an international team.
To capture a sample of the regolith, the spacecraft will be positioned over a carefully chosen area on the asteroid’s surface. An arm will extend from the spacecraft and make contact with the asteroid’s surface for less than five seconds, where it vacuum up the regolith with a canister engineered by Lockheed Martin.
When the sample is collected, it will be stored in the Sample Return Canister, which is the only part of the spacecraft to return to Earth. The Sample Return Canister is similar to the one used during the Stardust mission.
The sample will return to Earth in 2023 when Bennu and Earth orbits once again line up. OSIRIS-REx is designed to release the capsule, which will enter the Earth’s atmosphere and parachute to the ground. The spacecraft will be diverted toward the sun, where it will orbit until the end of its life.
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center provides overall mission management, systems engineering, and safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta is the principal investigator at the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages New Frontiers for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C. The mission’s spacecraft operations will be based at Lockheed Martin.