NASA could be in for another scientific milestone as it prepares to send its first ever space mission to collect valuable samples from a nearby asteroid.
The American space agency revealed that preparations are well on their way to send its Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft to asteroid Bennu this coming September.
The primary goal of the mission is to gather enough asteroid samples and bring them back to the Earth for analysis.
Geoff Yoder, NASA's acting associate administrator for its Science Mission Directorate (SMD), explained that the upcoming mission exemplifies the United States' quest to explore the Solar System in order to get a better understanding of the universe.
He said that NASA provides the best opportunity for scientific discovery and that the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft embodies the agency's goal to "innovate, explore, discover and inspire".
Collecting Asteroid Samples
According to NASA, the 4,650-pound OSIRIS-REx will blast off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Sept. 8 on board an Atlas V 411 rocket. It is expected to reach asteroid Bennu in 2018.
Once there, the OSIRIS-Rex will use its scientific instruments to carefully survey the asteroid to get a good read of its characteristics and to identify the best sample sites. The spacecraft will then use its robotic arm to collect as many as 70 ounces of material samples from Bennu's surface, which will be brought back to Earth in 2023.
Dante Lauretta, principal investigator of the OSIRIS-Rex project, pointed out that the spacecraft's launch will be the start of a seven-year mission to collect samples from Bennu. He said they were able to build an amazing vehicle and that they are very much capable of examining the asteroid.
Lauretta and his colleagues have equipped the OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft with five different scientific instruments, which will allow them to fully analyze various characteristics of asteroid Bennu.
The first of its instruments is the OSIRIS-REx Camera Suite (OCAMS), a three-camera system developed by researchers at the University of Arizona, Tucson. This will allow the OSIRIS-REx team to observe the asteroid through global and sample site imaging.
The next is the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA) scanning system provided by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). This instrument will be used to determine the distance between OSIRIS-REx and asteroid Bennu's surface. It will also be used to survey the asteroid's shape.
Scientists at the Arizona State University (ASU) in Tempe also contributed the OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer (OTES), which will provide temperature readings and identify what types of minerals are found on the asteroid.
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center team added the OSIRIS-REx Visible and Infrared Spectrometer (OVIRS) to the spacecraft, which is specially designed to identify the various organic materials and minerals on Bennu through the use of visible and infrared light.
The OSIRIS-REx team will also use the Regolith X-ray Imaging Spectrometer (REXIS) to monitor the X-ray spectrum in order to pinpoint what types of chemical elements are available on the asteroid.