NASA Moving Forward With Plans To Sample Asteroids
May 17, 2013

NASA Moving Forward With Plans To Sample Asteroids

[WATCH VIDEO: OSIRIS-REx To Investigate Asteroid Bennu]

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

NASA said it is moving forward with its plan to send a spacecraft to an asteroid to bring back a sample to Earth.

The space agency's Origins-Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission to sample asteroid Bennu is moving ahead in preparation for its launch in 2016. After launch, OSIRIS-REx will rendezvous with the asteroid in 2018 and return a sample of it back to Earth in 2023.

"Successfully passing KDP-C is a major milestone for the project," Mike Donnelly, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md, said in a statement. "This means NASA believes we have an executable plan to return a sample from Bennu. It now falls on the project and its development team members to execute that plan."

NASA says the asteroid could hold clues to the origin of the Solar System. OSIRIS-REx will map Bennu's global properties, measure non-gravitational forces and provide observations that can be compared with data obtained by telescope observations from Earth.

"The entire OSIRIS-REx team has worked very hard to get to this point," said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona in Tucson. "We have a long way to go before we arrive at Bennu, but I have every confidence when we do, we will have built a supremely capable system to return a sample of this primitive asteroid."

According to the space agency, the mission will be a vital part of NASA's plans to find, study, capture and relocate an asteroid for exploration by astronauts in the future. NASA recently announced a strategy to leverage human and robotic activities for the first human mission to an asteroid while also accelerating efforts to improve detection and characterization of asteroids.

Bennu was originally named asteroid 1999 RQ36, but nine-year-old student Michael Puzio from North Carolina had the opportunity to rename it. He suggested the new name because he imaged the Touch-and-Go Sample Mechanism arm and solar panels on OSIRIS-REx looked like the neck and wings of Bennu, which is what Egyptians depicted as a gray heron.

“Bennu struck a chord with many of us right away,” said Bruce Betts, director of projects for the Planetary Society and a contest judge. “While there were many great entries, the similarity between the image of the heron and the TAGSAM arm of OSIRIS-REx was a clever choice. The parallel with asteroids as both bringers of life and as destructive forces in the solar system also created a great opportunity to teach.”