After seven years in space, including a nail-biting touchdown on Bennu in 2020 to gather up dust and rocks, NASA’s intrepid OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is about to face one of its biggest challenges yet: deliver an asteroid sample to Earth while protecting it from heat, vibrations, and earthly contaminants.
“Once the sample capsule touches down, our team will be racing against the clock to recover it and get it to the safety of a temporary clean room,” said Mike Moreau, deputy project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
Welcome to the OSIRIS-REx blog. Here you will find updates on NASA’s first mission to collect an asteroid sample for analysis in labs around the globe.
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is cruising back to Earth now with samples it collected at the rocky surface of asteroid Bennu on Oct. 20, 2020. The spacecraft will deliver these samples on Sept. 24, 2023, thereby expanding NASA’s legacy of bold missions to collect extraterrestrial samples of rocks and regolith – missions that started in 1969 when Apollo 11 landed on the Moon’s surface.
We invite you to check back here regularly to learn how NASA is preparing for the sample return event. You’ll learn how the asteroid sample will make it to Earth’s surface and meet the scientists and engineers who will collect the sample capsule in the Utah desert, where it will land. We’ll also give you a behind-the-scenes peek at the extensive rehearsals necessary to transport, open, and store this pristine cache of rocks and dust that can reveal the history of our solar system.
NASA’s first asteroid sampling mission launched into space at 7:05 p.m. EDT Thursday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, beginning a journey that could revolutionize our understanding of the early solar system.
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V boosted NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, short for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, onto a path to the asteroid Bennu. Shortly after the spacecraft separated from the launch vehicle, controllers on the ground received welcome news from orbit: the spacecraft’s solar panels had deployed and it was healthy.
“The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is happy and healthy,” said Rich Kuhns, OSIRIS-REx program manager for Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver. “We started the journey with a phenomenal launch on the Atlas V, it delivered us right where we needed to be, separated where we said we would – and since then, it’s been knocking out milestone after milestone.”
“Tonight is a night for celebration – we are on the way to an asteroid,” said Ellen Stofan, NASA’s chief scientist. “We’re going to be answering some of the most fundamental questions that NASA works on.”
OSIRIS REx’s solar arrays are providing power and the spacecraft is communicating with controllers on Earth, according to Geoffrey Yoder, acting associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
“Everything is working thus far,” Yoder reported. “It’s a great day for the space program.”
This concludes live countdown coverage, but stay tuned to NASA TV for a post-launch news conference scheduled for 9 p.m. at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
“What a terrific performance by the combined Atlas V team,” NASA Launch Manager Tim Dunn told NASA Commentator Mike Curie after the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft separated from the Centaur upper stage, signifying the end of tonight’s launch and the start of the asteroid-sampler’s mission to Bennu.
“Not a single anomaly was worked during the countdown,” Dunn said. “That’s almost unheard of — it’s a launch director’s dream.”
He commended the spacecraft, rocket and launch teams whose thorough preparations led to a very successful countdown and launch, sending OSIRIS-REx off on its mission at the first launch opportunity at 7:05 p.m. tonight.
Flying high above the southern tip of Australia, the OSIRIS-REx successfully separated from the Centaur upper stage, beginning a seven-year mission to travel to the asteroid Bennu and return a sample to Earth.
Next, OSIRIS-REx will “phone home” via the Deep Space Network, and confirm its solar arrays have deployed.
The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft remains attached to the Centaur upper stage following the ride to space that began with liftoff from Space Launch Complex 41 in Florida at 7:05 p.m. EDT. The spacecraft is due to separate from the Centaur at about 8:04 p.m.