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.
Photo credit: NASA/ Dimitri Gerondidakis