Despite the recent SpaceX rocket mishap at Cape Canaveral, NASA still intends to push through with its asteroid-sampling mission, which is scheduled to launch from the same Florida facility next week.
The American space agency said it remains committed to sending the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft into space on Sept. 8.
The mission involves having the orbital probe blast off atop an Atlas V rocket and travel to near-Earth asteroid known Bennu for the next two years.
In a Twitter post sent out on Thursday, Sept. 1, NASA officials said that both the rocket and the probe remain secure and in good condition.
— NASA (@NASA) September 1, 2016
The OSIRIS Rex spacecraft is located 1.1 miles from the SpaceX launch where a Falcon 9 rocket blew up while being fueled.
United Launch Alliance (ULA), the company tapped by NASA to help launch OSIRIS-Rex, said it is now preparing the Atlas V booster that will carry the probe into space.
If everything goes accordingly, the orbital probe will reach Bennu's location in July 2018.
According to NASA, the main goal of OSIRIS-Rex is to collect organic materials from the surface of Bennu. Scientists believe that these samples can help provide more information about the origins of life in the solar system.
Daniel Scheeres, a professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder and one of the researchers involved in the asteroid-sampling mission, explained that they chose the asteroid as their target because of the presence of carbon-rich materials, which may have originally been distilled out of gas during the early formation of the planetary system.
Once it arrives at Bennu's location, OSIRIS-Rex will use a specialized robotic arm known as the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) to smash a portion of the asteroid and grab surface samples.
Observations from OSIRIS-REx will also help researchers understand just how much of a threat the 1,650-foot-wide (500 meters) asteroid poses to the safety of the Earth. Studies reveal that there is small chance that Bennu could smash into the planet in the 22nd century.
Scheeres said visiting Bennu will allow them to determine the asteroid's orbit and the various physical forces that affect it. These will give them a better idea on where the space rock will be in the next hundreds of years.
NASA said the asteroid-sampling mission could also reveal the type of mineral resources on Bennu, which could prove useful for asteroid mining in the future.