NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft – and the rocket that will carry it into space, the United Launch Alliance Atlas V – are making significant strides toward launch, planned for Sept. 8.
Inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, technicians have installed thermal blankets around the spacecraft (pictured above), culminating with a solar array illumination test today. These activities set the stage for spacecraft closeouts, weighing and fueling, planned for next week.
The Atlas V rocket is coming together across the Banana River at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The vehicle’s Centaur upper stage arrived July 21 (center photo), and the first-stage booster followed on July 29. Both elements currently are in the Atlas Spaceflight Operations Center. The rocket’s booster, solid rocket motor and Centaur upper stage are slated to be assembled Aug. 8 through 10 in the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex 41.
OSIRIS-REx will be the first U.S. mission to sample an asteroid, retrieve at least two ounces of surface material and return it to Earth for study. Analysis of the sample will reveal the history of the asteroid, called Bennu, over the past 4.5 billion years.
Photo credits: NASA/Michelle Stone (top), NASA/Cory Huston (center) and 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
In the image above, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft rotates on a spin table during a weight and center of gravity test May 24 inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. An overhead crane carefully returned the spacecraft to its work stand May 26 (right) to continue prelaunch processing.
OSIRIS-REx, stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security – Regolith Explorer. The spacecraft will travel to an asteroid, Bennu, retrieve a sample and return it to Earth. Liftoff is targeted for Sept. 8 aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.
Photos by NASA/Kim Shiflett (above) and NASA/Frank Michaux (right)
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft arrived at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Friday evening aboard an Air Force C-17 cargo aircraft.
OSIRIS-REx stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security – Regolith Explorer. This will be the first U.S. mission to sample an asteroid, retrieve at least two ounces of surface material and return it to Earth for study. The asteroid, Bennu, may hold clues to the origin of the solar system and the source of water and organic molecules found on Earth.
Tucked inside a shipping container, the spacecraft traveled from Lockheed Martin’s facility near Denver, Colorado to Kennedy’s Shuttle Landing Facility. It was carefully offloaded from the aircraft and transported to the spaceport’s Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility to begin processing for its upcoming launch, targeted for Sept. 8 aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.
Photo credits: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis (top) and NASA/Bill White (right)