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OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return spacecraft gets go-ahead


April 12, 2014

Artist's impression of OSIRIS REx

Artist's impression of OSIRIS REx

Image Gallery (2 images)

Getting hit by a giant asteroid can ruin your whole day, so the first United States mission to visit an asteroid and return a sample presents a huge challenge. Lockheed Martin has announced that NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission has passed a comprehensive technical review, giving the green light for Lockheed to begin building the spacecraft in anticipation of a launch in 2016.

Performed by an independent review board made up of experts from NASA and other organizations, the mission critical design review (CDR) was aimed at validating the detailed design of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, as well as its instruments and the ground system needed to support it. This is a key step if the mission is to meet its scheduled launch date for late 2016.

The goal of OSIRIS-REx is to rendezvous with the near-Earth asteroid Bennu in 2018. Bennu is one of only five B-types that is of suitable size and orbit for rendezvous and sample return. It’s also one of the most likely asteroids to hit Earth in the next few centuries, so taking a close look has an element of self-interest.

Once it reaches Bennu, OSIRIS-REx will spend a year examining the asteroid, including a detailed study its chemistry, mineralogy and topography, a comparison of telescope-based data with on-the-spot observations and making a precise determination of the asteroid’s orbit. It will then touch the asteroid with a telescopic probe, which will use a blast of compressed nitrogen gas to blow a 2-oz (60 gm) dust sample into a collection filter. The spacecraft will then return to Earth in 2023 and the sample will make a landing using a Sample Return Capsule of the same design as that used for returning comet samples on previous missions.

“Passing CDR is a significant milestone in our program,” says Rich Kuhns, program manager at Lockheed Martin Space Systems. “We have now completed the spacecraft design and are transitioning into fabrication as we prepare for the assembly, test and launch operations phase of the mission.”

The video below outlines the OSIRIS-REx mission.

Source: Lockheed Martin

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past. All articles by David Szondy

Why go all that distance and not try for at least a small core sample?

Ben O'Brien

Umm... meteorites fall to Earth all the time. We ALREADY know what they're made of. Spectral analysis of meteors burning up in the atmosphere tells you exactly what they're made of. Asteroids have hit Earth too and we've already examined the really big craters that they make. Why is my tax money paying for this? If you want to research this, go to Kickstarter and raise money on your own. It sounds like great science but leave me out of this. This is a stupid waste of taxpayer money. Any large private university can fund this through their endowments. Harvard? Stanford? Yale?


I'm agreeing with the core sample idea... gravity would make dust collect on an asteroid's surface (slowly). why do we need a sample of what has been collected by gravity? Let's sample the asteroid itself! If not a core sample; then how about firing a testing probe into the asteroid that collects data and via wifi? returns the test results. Nail gun it with a tether to pull in fragile testing equipment. blow the dust away from the surface so that the equipment tests the asteroid, not the dust. Put a location beacon on it to keep track of it in case it does look like hitting Earth or in case we ever decide to try mining it. Mass manufacture these testing/beaconing asteroid taggers!


I like the "put a beacon" on it idea. Better yet, if you go all that distance, bring the dang thing back.

David Finney

"Bennu is one of only five B-types that is of suitable size and orbit for rendezvous and sample return.

It’s also one of the most likely asteroids to hit Earth in the next few centuries, so taking a close look has an element of self-interest."


Maybe some of you commenters should try reading.

Do you think that would explain WHY we should be doing this research AND how complex the circumstances are?

This isn't "sy-fy" or 4th of July. It's not like you just get some money, go on eBay and simply blast off for the stars!


@ RelayerM31

We know what survived reentry and impact this is not the same as knowing what the asteroid is made from.

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