Everything remains on track today for the launch of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission at 7:05 p.m. EDT, the opening of a 2-hour window. The weather forecast continues to call for an 80 percent chance of acceptable conditions.
Bolted to the top of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at Space Launch Complex 41, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will be sent on a course to rendezvous with an asteroid called Bennu. Once there in August 2018, the spacecraft will take unprecedented surveys of the asteroid and then reach out a mechanical arm to grab a pristine sample of it. Then the spacecraft will head back to Earth, releasing the sample inside a specialized, heat shield-equipped capsule that will parachute the sample safely to Earth where researchers will collect it for study. The mission will take seven years to complete. Our webcast on the launch and mission is below.
Analysis of the sample will reveal the earliest stages of the solar system’s evolution and the history of Bennu over the past 4.5 billion years. Scientists expect Bennu may hold clues to the origin of the solar system and the source of the water and organic molecules that may have made their way to Earth.
For tonight though, all eyes are on the launch. Our continuous countdown coverage will begin at 5:30 p.m. EDT on the OSIRIS-REx blog. NASA TV’s coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. with an episode of NASA Edge, then will shift at 4:30 p.m. to live views of the Atlas V rocket and OSIRIS-REx spacecraft accompanied by countdown net audio. The launch broadcast will begin at 5:30 p.m. and continue through spacecraft separation, solar array deployment and positive communication with the spacecraft by NASA’s Deep Space Network. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett
A spacecraft designed to sample an asteroid and return that sample to Earth will depend greatly on its communications systems with Earth to relay everything from its health and status to scientific findings from making a detailed survey of the asteroid known as Bennu. That’s why engineers from NASA’s Deep Space Network spent the past couple of weeks performing detailed tests of the various communications systems on the OSIRIS-REx spaceraft.
More than a simple on-off evaluation, the tests call for analyses that simulate the millions of miles of distance that signals from the spacecraft will have to traverse to reach the gigantic antennas of the Deep Space Network placed in California, Spain and Canberra, Australia. With dishes measuring up to 230 feet in diameter, the Earthbound communications network is geared to pick up faint transmissions from probes that are exploring the solar system.
The recent tests were completed inside a long, single-story building at Kennedy known as MIL-71. Its name harkens back to the time when Kennedy was known as the Merritt Island Launch Annex, or MILA. Communications systems allow only three letters, so it was shortened the MIL. In much the same way, the asteroid sampling mission called OSIRIS-REx by its management is known in Deep Space Network and communications circles by its own three-letter acronym, ORX.
It takes a roomful of specialized gear to perform the testing which calls for simulating the vast distances of space though the spacecraft and instruments are in buildings next door to each other. The team heads back to California soon to apply their work to the system and get ready to use it for launch.
They won’t know until about 20 minutes after liftoff whether their testing was performed correctly and the spacecraft will effectively communicate with Earth. It is around that time that the OSIRIS-REx will separate from the upper stage of the Atlas V rocket. Assuming they get a signal like they expect, the spacecraft will unfurl its solar arrays and head for the asteroid, keeping Earth updated to the progress throughout its journey. Photo credit: NASA/ Dimitri Gerondidakis
At NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, preparations are underway to launch a mission to an asteroid that may hold clues to the origin of the solar system and the source of water and organic molecules found on Earth.
The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security–Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-REx, spacecraft arrived at the spaceport from Buckley Air Force Base near Denver aboard an Air Force C-17, touching down on May 20 at the Shuttle Landing Facility. Since that time, the spacecraft was moved to the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility where technicians and engineers removed it from its shipping container the next day and connected it to a rotation fixture for spin balance testing.
A test of the OSIRIS-REx solar array deployment mechanism recently was conducted along with inspection, cleaning and functional testing of the arrays. An interface test with the Deep Space Network currently is underway.
Targeted for liftoff at 7:05 p.m. EDT, Sept. 8, 2016, aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, OSIRIS-REx will be the first U.S. mission to sample an asteroid, retrieve surface material and return it to Earth for study.
After OSIRIS-REx arrives within three miles of the asteroid, Bennu, the spacecraft will begin six months of comprehensive study and mapping of the surface.
The science team then will select a location where the spacecraft’s arm will take a sample. The spacecraft gradually will move closer to the site, and the arm will extend to collect at least a 2.1-ounce sample for return to Earth in 2023.
The spacecraft that will perform NASA’s Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security – Regolith Explorer mission, known as OSIRIS-REx, will arrive at Kennedy Space Center from Buckley Air Force Base near Denver on May 20 aboard an Air Force C-17 at the Shuttle Landing Facility.
OSIRIS-REx will come out of the shipping container May 21, go onto a rotation fixture on May 23, have a spin test May 24-25. It then will be hoisted onto a dolly May 26 for other upcoming activities. A partial solar array deployment test is scheduled on May 31.
OSIRIS-Rex is scheduled to launch Sept. 8 at 7:05 p.m. EDT. As planned, the spacecraft will reach its near-Earth asteroid target, called Bennu (formerly 1999 RQ36), in 2018. Once within three miles of the asteroid, the spacecraft will begin six months of comprehensive surface mapping.
The science team then will pick a location where the spacecraft’s arm will take a sample. The spacecraft gradually will move closer to the site, and the arm will extend to collect a 2.1-ounce sample for return to Earth in 2023. The mission will help scientists investigate how planets formed and how life began, as well as improve our understanding of asteroids that could impact Earth.
Bennu is about 1,640 feet in diameter or roughly the size of five football fields. The asteroid, a little altered over time, is likely to represent a snapshot of our solar system’s infancy.
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. 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 New Frontiers for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C.