CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida - In just three weeks, NASA will launch the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft to travel to an asteroid and bring a sample back to Earth.
The 4,650-pound (2,110-kilogram) fully-fueled spacecraft will launch aboard an Atlas V 411 configuration rocket during a 34-day launch period that begins September 8, and reach its asteroid target in 2018.
Launch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. EDT on Thursday, September 8, 2016, from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. There is a 120 minute window for each launch opportunity.
After a careful survey of the near-Earth asteroid Bennu to characterize the asteroid and locate the most promising sample sites, OSIRIS-REx will collect between 2 and 70 ounces (about 60 to 2,000 grams) of surface material with its robotic arm and return the sample to Earth via a detachable capsule in 2023.
Bennu is believed to be one of the oldest asteroids in our solar system. Scientists expect Bennu may hold clues to the origin of the solar system and the source of the water and organic molecules that may have made their way to Earth.
Bennu may also harbor organic material from the young solar system. Organic matter is made of molecules containing primarily carbon and hydrogen atoms and is fundamental to terrestrial life. The analysis of any organic material found on Bennu will give scientists an inventory of the materials present at the beginning of the solar system that may have had a role in the origin of life.
Photo credit: NASA