1. OSIRIS-REx Executes First Deep Space Maneuver

    December 28, 2016 -

    NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft executed its first Deep Space Maneuver today, putting it on course for an Earth flyby in September 2017. The team will continue to examine telemetry and tracking data as it becomes available at the current low data rate and will have more information in January.

    Artist’s conception of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft during a burn of its main engine. Credit: University of Arizona

  2. NASA Mission to Search for Rare Asteroids

    December 12, 2016 -

    NASA’s first mission to return a sample of an asteroid to Earth will be multitasking during its two-year outbound cruise to the asteroid Bennu. On Feb. 9-20, the OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security – Regolith Explorer) spacecraft will activate its onboard camera suite and commence a search for elusive “Trojan” asteroids.

    In February 2017, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will undertake a search for Earth-Trojan asteroids while on its outbound journey to the asteroid Bennu. Earth Trojans are asteroids that share an orbit with Earth while remaining near a stable point 60 degrees in front of or behind the planet. Credit: University of Arizona/Heather Roper

    In February 2017, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will undertake a search for Earth-Trojan asteroids while on its outbound journey to the asteroid Bennu. Earth Trojans are asteroids that share an orbit with Earth while remaining near a stable point 60 degrees in front of or behind the planet. Credit: University of Arizona/Heather Roper

    Trojans are asteroids that are constant companions to planets in our solar system as they orbit the sun, remaining near a stable point 60 degrees in front of or behind the planet. Because they constantly lead or follow in the same orbit, they will never collide with their companion planet.

    There are six planets in our solar system with known Trojan asteroids—Jupiter, Neptune, Mars, Venus, Uranus and, yes, even Earth. The Earth Trojan is elusive; to date, scientists have only discovered one Earth trojan asteroid — 2010 TK7  — found by NASA’s NEOWISE project in 2010. Yet there are more than 6,000 known Trojans that are co-orbiting the sun with the gas giant Jupiter.

    Scientists predict that there should be more Trojans sharing Earth’s orbit, but these asteroids are difficult to detect from Earth because they appear close to the sun from Earth’s point of view. In mid-February 2017, however, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will be positioned in an ideal spot to undertake a survey.

    Over 12 days, the OSIRIS-REx Earth-Trojan asteroid search will employ the spacecraft’s MapCam imager to methodically scan the space where Earth Trojans are expected to exist.  Many of these observations will closely resemble MapCam’s planned activities during its upcoming search for satellites of asteroid Bennu, so the Trojan asteroid search serves as an early rehearsal for the mission’s primary science operations.

    “The Earth-Trojan asteroid search provides a substantial advantage to the OSIRIS-REx mission,” said OSIRIS-REx Principal Investigator Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson. “Not only do we have the opportunity to discover new members of an asteroid class, but more importantly, we are practicing critical mission operations in advance of our arrival at Bennu, which ultimately reduces mission risk.”

    The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is currently on a seven-year journey to rendezvous with, study, and bring a sample of Bennu to Earth. This sample of a primitive asteroid will help scientists understand the formation of our solar system more than 4.5 billion years ago.

    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center provides overall mission management, systems engineering and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is the principal investigator, and the University of Arizona also leads the science team and the mission’s science observation planning and data processing. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver built the spacecraft and is providing flight operations. Goddard and KinetX Aerospace are responsible for navigating the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the agency’s New Frontiers Program for its Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

  3. PI BLOG: OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft Check Out and Early Cruise Phase Activities

    November 14, 2016 -

    It has been awhile since I posted anything to this site. The launch of OSIRIS-REx was such an amazing, emotional experience; it took me about a month to come back down to Earth (pun intended). I have now settled into a normal work routine in Tucson and the team has been busy operating the spacecraft and planning for the encounter with Bennu in 2018. We are now in the Outbound Cruise phase of the mission.

  4. NASA Tests Thrusters on Journey to Asteroid Bennu

    October 7, 2016 -
    Artist's conception of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft in cruise configuration. Credit: University of Arizona/Heather Roper

    Artist’s conception of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft in cruise configuration. Credit: University of Arizona/Heather Roper

    NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft fired its Trajectory Correction Maneuver (TCM) thrusters for the first time Friday in order to slightly adjust its trajectory on the outbound journey from Earth to the asteroid Bennu. The spacecraft’s planned first Trajectory Correction Maneuver (TCM-1) began at 1 p.m. EDT and lasted for approximately 12 seconds. The maneuver changed the velocity of the spacecraft by 1.1 mile per hour (50 centimeters per second) and used approximately 18 ounces (.5 kilogram) of fuel.  The spacecraft is currently about 9 million miles (14.5 million kilometers) from Earth.

    TCM-1 was originally included in the spacecraft’s flight plan to fine-tune its trajectory if needed after the mission’s Sept. 8 launch. The ULA Atlas V’s launch performance was so accurate, however, that the spacecraft’s orbit had no practical need for correction. Instead, the OSIRIS-REx mission team used the Oct. 7 maneuver to test the TCM thrusters and as practice to prepare for a much larger propulsive maneuver scheduled in December.

    The mission had allocated approximately 388 ounces (11 kilograms) of propellant for TCM-1 to create a velocity change of up to 26 miles per hour (11.6 meters per second), had it been necessary. The unused propellant from this event provides more fuel margin for the spacecraft’s asteroid proximity operations once OSIRIS-REx arrives at Bennu.

    To track today’s maneuver, the OSIRIS-REx mission’s navigation team monitored the Doppler shift in radio signals between the spacecraft and the Deep Space Network antenna at the Goldstone Observatory in California. After 44 seconds—the current one-way light time delay between the spacecraft and Earth—the team received the first maneuver data from the spacecraft. Over the next week, the navigation team will process daily spacecraft tracking data to determine the precise effect of the burn.

    The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has four different kinds of thrusters providing considerable redundancy in its ability to maneuver on its way to the surface of Bennu and back. OSIRIS-REx began using its Attitude Control System (ACS) thrusters shortly after launch to keep the spacecraft oriented, so that its solar arrays point toward the sun and its communication antennas point toward Earth. Today was the first use of its larger Trajectory Correction Maneuver (TCM) thrusters. In December OSIRIS-REx will use its largest thrusters, the Main Engine (ME) thrusters, to target the spacecraft for its Earth Gravity Assist scheduled for Sept. 22, 2017. Its smallest thrusters, the Low Thrust Reaction Engine Assembly (LTR) thrusters, will be used for the delicate maneuvers close to the surface of the asteroid Bennu.

    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center provides overall mission management, systems engineering and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is the principal investigator, and the University of Arizona also leads the science team and the mission’s observation planning and processing. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver built the spacecraft and is providing spacecraft flight operations. Goddard and KinetX Aerospace are responsible for navigating the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the agency’s New Frontiers Program for its Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

  5. NASA’s Asteroid-Bound Spacecraft Aces Instrument Check

    September 26, 2016 -

    Its science instruments have been powered on, and NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft continues on its journey to an asteroid. The spacecraft has passed its initial instrument check with flying colors as it speeds toward a 2018 rendezvous with the asteroid Bennu.

    On Sept. 19, the OCAMS MapCam camera recorded a star field in Taurus, north of the top of the constellation Orion as part of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft’s post-launch aliveness test. MapCam's first color image is a composite of three of its four color filters, roughly corresponding to blue, green, and red wavelengths. The three images are processed to remove noise, co-registered, and enhanced to emphasize dimmer stars. Color variation in the stars at the pixel level highlights the motivation for calibrating the color response of the camera, which will occur in 6 months. This composite was derived from the following images: 20160919T162228S6220_map_L0b_V001.fits, 20160919T162251S4210_map_L0v_V001.fits, 20160919T162314S3180_map_L0w_V001.fits, 20160919T162337S6670_map_L0x_V001.fits. Credit: NASA/GSFC/University of Arizona

    On Sept. 19, the OCAMS MapCam camera recorded a star field in Taurus, north of the top of the constellation Orion as part of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft’s post-launch aliveness test. MapCam’s first color image is a composite of three of its four color filters, roughly corresponding to blue, green, and red wavelengths. The three images are processed to remove noise, co-registered, and enhanced to emphasize dimmer stars. Credit: NASA/GSFC/University of Arizona

    Last week NASA’s spacecraft designed to collect a sample of an asteroid ran the first check of its onboard instruments. Starting on Sept. 19, engineers controlling the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft powered on and operated the mission’s five science instruments and one of its navigational instruments. The data received from the checkout indicate that the spacecraft and its instruments are all healthy.

    Instrument testing commenced with the OSIRIS-REx Camera Suite (OCAMS), provided by the University of Arizona. On Monday, OCAMS executed its power-on and test sequence with no issues. The cameras recorded a star field in Taurus north of the constellation Orion along with Orion’s bright red star Betelgeuse. The three OCAMS cameras performed flawlessly during the test.

    On Monday and Wednesday, the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA), contributed by the Canadian Space Agency, conducted its test sequences, which included a firing of its laser.  All telemetry received from the OLA instrument was as expected.

    On Tuesday, both the OSIRIS-REx Visible and Infrared Spectrometer (OVIRS), provided by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, and the OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emissions Spectrometer (OTES), provided by Arizona State University, were separately powered on for tests. Data from both during the checkout showed that the instruments were healthy. The science measurements acquired from OTES exceeded the instrument’s performance requirements.

    On Wednesday, the student experiment from MIT, the Regolith X-ray Imaging Spectrometer (REXIS), executed its functional test with no problems.  And on Thursday, the Touch and Go Camera System (TAGCAMS) navigational camera was powered on and tested, and it operated as expected.  As part of its checkout, TAGCAMS took an image of the spacecraft’s Sample Return Capsule.

    The first light images of star fields from OCAMS’s MapCam and PolyCam illustrate each camera’s specialized function. MapCam’s medium resolution and wider field-of-view will help map the entire surface of Bennu in color. While PolyCam’s field of view is much smaller, it can see much fainter objects at a higher resolution. PolyCam’s ability to act as a telescopic will help the OSIRIS-REx team spot Bennu while it is still a point of light against a field of stars. Images used: 20160919T162205S7220_map_L0pan_V001.fits, 20160919T163144S6440_pol_L0pan_V001.fits Credit: NASA/GSFC/University of Arizona

    The first light images of star fields from OCAMS’s MapCam and PolyCam illustrate each camera’s specialized function. MapCam’s medium resolution and wider field-of-view will help map the entire surface of Bennu in color. While PolyCam’s field of view is much smaller, it can see much fainter objects at a higher resolution. PolyCam’s ability to act as a telescopic will help the OSIRIS-REx team spot Bennu while it is still a point of light against a field of stars. Credit: NASA/GSFC/University of Arizona

    The downlink of the test data continued through Sunday via the spacecraft’s low gain antenna (LGA), which transmitted at 40 kbps to NASA’s Deep Space Network.

    Goddard Space Flight Center provides overall mission management, systems engineering and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is the principal investigator. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver built the spacecraft and is providing spacecraft flight operations. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the agency’s New Frontiers Program for its Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

  6. OSIRIS-REx Mission Status Report – Sept. 15

    September 15, 2016 -

    One week post-launch, NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft remains healthy and is on track for its two-year journey to the asteroid Bennu.  As of noon EDT Thursday, the spacecraft was approximately 2 million miles (3.2 million kilometers) from Earth, traveling at approximately 12,300 miles per hour (19,800 kilometers per hour) relative to Earth.  All of the spacecraft’s subsystems are operating as expected.

    This is the first image from the OSIRIS-REx star tracker taken on Monday, Sept. 12. Similar to the way early sailors used the stars to navigate, the star tracker on OSIRIS-REx takes images of the stars and compares them to an on-board catalogue, which then tells the spacecraft navigation systems its attitude, or which way it is pointing. Credits: NASA

    This is the first image from the OSIRIS-REx star tracker taken on Monday, Sept. 12. Similar to the way early sailors used the stars to navigate, the star tracker on OSIRIS-REx takes images of the stars and compares them to an on-board catalogue, which then tells the spacecraft navigation systems its attitude, or which way it is pointing.
    Credits: NASA

    The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is designed to rendezvous with, study, and return a sample of Bennu to Earth. This sample of a primitive asteroid will help scientists understand the formation of our solar system more than 4.5 billion years ago.

    After liftoff at 7:05 p.m. EDT on Sept. 8, the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket performed flawlessly and positioned the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft exactly where the mission’s navigation team expected it to be. By 1:30 p.m. EDT on Sept. 9, approximately 18 1/2 hours after launch, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft had crossed the orbital path of the moon at 240,000 miles (386,500 kilometers). By that evening, the spacecraft transitioned from launch operations into its outbound cruise phase.

    On Sept. 12, OSIRIS-REx took its first image from it star tracker navigational camera, proving the system is functioning properly.  The star tracker takes images of the stars and compares them to an on-board catalog, which then tells the spacecraft navigation systems its attitude, or which way it is pointing.

    Next week, the engineers controlling the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will conduct checkouts of the science instruments on board the spacecraft.

    Goddard Space Flight Center provides overall mission management, systems engineering and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is the principal investigator. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver built the spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the agency’s New Frontiers Program for its Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

  7. PI BLOG: OSIRIS-REx – Day 2 in Space

    September 10, 2016 -

    Our spacecraft continues to operate flawlessly. Kudos to the operations team members who have been tracking and operating the spacecraft since separation! Here are some details on recent status.  After a flawless launch day, day 2 has also progressed as planned […]

  8. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Speeds Toward Asteroid Rendezvous

    September 8, 2016 -

    NASA’s first asteroid sampling mission launched into space at 7:05 p.m. EDT Thursday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, beginning a journey that could revolutionize our understanding of the early solar system.

    The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft launches aboard a ULA Atlas V 411 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Credit: United Launch Alliance

    The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft launches aboard a ULA Atlas V 411 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Credit: United Launch Alliance

    “Today, we celebrate a huge milestone for this remarkable mission, and for this mission team,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “We’re very excited about what this mission can tell us about the origin of our solar system, and we celebrate the bigger picture of science that is helping us make discoveries and accomplish milestones that might have been science fiction yesterday, but are science facts today.”

    The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft is designed to rendezvous with, study, and return a sample of the asteroid Bennu to Earth. Asteroids like Bennu are remnants from the formation of our solar system more than 4.5 billion years ago. Scientists suspect that asteroids may have been a source of the water and organic molecules for the early Earth and other planetary bodies. An uncontaminated asteroid sample from a known source would enable precise analyses, providing results far beyond what can be achieved by spacecraft-based instruments or by studying meteorites.

    OSIRIS-REx separated from its United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at 8:04 p.m. The solar arrays deployed and are now powering the spacecraft.

    “With today’s successful launch, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft embarks on a journey of exploration to Bennu,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “I couldn’t be more proud of the team that made this mission a reality, and I can’t wait to see what we will discover at Bennu.”

    In 2018, OSIRIS-REx will approach Bennu – which is the size of a small mountain – and begin an intricate dance with the asteroid, mapping and studying Bennu in preparation for sample collection. In July 2020, the spacecraft will perform a daring maneuver in which its 11-foot arm will reach out and perform a five-second “high-five” to stir up surface material, collecting at least 2 ounces (60 grams) of small rocks and dust in a sample return container. OSIRIS-REx will return the sample to Earth in September 2023, when it will then be transported to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston for examination.

    The OSIRIS-REx mission will be the first U.S. mission to carry samples from an asteroid back to Earth and the largest sample returned from space since the Apollo era.

    “It’s satisfying to see the culmination of years of effort from this outstanding team,” said Mike Donnelly, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “We were able to deliver OSIRIS-REx on time and under budget to the launch site, and will soon do something that no other NASA spacecraft has done – bring back a sample from an asteroid.”

    Goddard provides overall mission management, systems engineering and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is the principal investigator. The University of Arizona leads the science team and observation planning and processing. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver built the spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the agency’s New Frontiers Program for its Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Launch and countdown management is the responsibility of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

  9. PI BLOG: The Atlas V 411 AV-067: Our Ride to Space

    August 23, 2016 -

    OSIRIS-REx is scheduled for lift-off from Space Launch Complex-41 (SLC-41) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on September 8, 2016 at 7:05 pm EDT. The daily launch window is almost two hours long, extending to 9:00 pm EDT. The entire launch window is 34 days long, extending through October 11, 2016.

  10. NASA Prepares to Launch First U.S. Asteroid Sample Return Mission

    August 17, 2016 -

    NASA is preparing to launch its first mission to return a sample of an asteroid to Earth. The mission will help scientists investigate how planets formed and how life began, as well as improve our understanding of asteroids that could impact Earth.

    OSIRIS-REx will travel to near-Earth asteroid Bennu on a sample return mission. Credits: NASA

    OSIRIS-REx will travel to near-Earth asteroid Bennu on a sample return mission.
    Credits: NASA

    The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft will travel to the near-Earth asteroid Bennu and bring a sample back to Earth for intensive study. Launch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. EDT Thursday, Sept. 8 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

    “This mission exemplifies our nation’s quest to boldly go and study our solar system and beyond to better understand the universe and our place in it,” said Geoff Yoder, acting associate administrator for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “NASA science is the greatest engine of scientific discovery on the planet and OSIRIS-REx embodies our directorate’s goal to innovate, explore, discover, and inspire.”

    The 4,650-pound (2,110-kilogram) fully-fueled spacecraft will launch aboard an Atlas V 411 rocket during a 34-day launch period that begins Sept. 8, and reach its asteroid target in 2018. After a careful survey of 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.

    “The launch of OSIRIS-REx is the beginning a seven-year journey to return pristine samples from asteroid Bennu,” said OSIRIS-REx Principal Investigator Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson. “The team has built an amazing spacecraft, and we are well-equipped to investigate Bennu and return with our scientific treasure.”

    OSIRIS-REx has five instruments to explore Bennu:

    OSIRIS-REx Camera Suite (OCAMS) – A system consisting of three cameras provided by the University of Arizona, Tucson, will observe Bennu and provide global imaging, sample site imaging, and will witness the sampling event.

    OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA) – A scanning LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) contributed by the Canadian Space Agency will be used to measure the distance between the spacecraft and Bennu’s surface, and will map the shape of the asteroid.

    OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer (OTES) – An instrument provided by Arizona State University in Tempe that will investigate mineral abundances and provide temperature information with observations in the thermal infrared spectrum.

    OSIRIS-REx Visible and Infrared Spectrometer (OVIRS) – An instrument provided by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland and designed to measure visible and infrared light from Bennu to identify mineral and organic material.

    Regolith X-ray Imaging Spectrometer (REXIS) – A student experiment provided by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University in Cambridge, which will observe the X-ray spectrum to identify chemical elements on Bennu’s surface and their abundances.

    Additionally, the spacecraft has two systems that will enable the sample collection and return:

    Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) – An articulated robotic arm with a sampler head, provided by Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver, to collect a sample of Bennu’s surface.

    OSIRIS-REx Sample Return Capsule (SRC) – A capsule with a heat shield and parachutes in which the spacecraft will return the asteroid sample to Earth, provided by Lockheed Martin.

    “Our upcoming launch is the culmination of a tremendous amount of effort from an extremely dedicated team of scientists, engineers, technicians, finance and support personnel,” said OSIRIS-REx Project Manager Mike Donnelly at Goddard. “I’m incredibly proud of this team and look forward to launching the mission’s journey to Bennu and back.”

    Goddard provides overall mission management, systems engineering, and safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Lockheed Martin Space Systems built the spacecraft. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is the principal investigator. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages New Frontiers for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

  11. PI BLOG: 39 Days to Launch – What’s Left to Get Done?

    July 31, 2016 -

    With only 39 days to go until we launch OSIRIS-REx our schedule is packed with activities. Here is a quick rundown of what the team has left to do to get ready to blast this asteroid-sampling robot into space.

  12. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Mission Will Have a Map for That

    May 25, 2016 -

    On Sept. 8, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is scheduled to launch for terra incognita: the unknown surface of the near-Earth asteroid Bennu. Like expeditions of old, OSIRIS-REx’s mission includes mapping the exotic terrain it explores.

    Bennu is part of the debris left over from the formation of the solar system and is pristine enough to hold clues to that very early history. OSIRIS-REx – which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer – will study Bennu in detail and collect a sample to send to Earth for in-depth analysis. The mission also will investigate how pressure from sunlight influences the path of this traveling asteroid.

    “I like to say the first thing any explorer does upon reaching a new land is to start making maps,” said Ed Beshore, deputy principal investigator of OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

    The mapping of the near-Earth asteroid Bennu is one of the science goals of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission, and an integral part of spacecraft operations. The spacecraft will spend a year surveying Bennu before collecting a sample that will be returned to Earth for analysis. Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    The mapping of the near-Earth asteroid Bennu is one of the science goals of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission, and an integral part of spacecraft operations. The spacecraft will spend a year surveying Bennu before collecting a sample that will be returned to Earth for analysis.
    Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

    For OSIRIS-REx, mapping is mission-critical. It’s one of the primary science goals and an integral part of spacecraft operations. The spacecraft will spend a year flying in close proximity to Bennu – its five instruments imaging the asteroid, documenting its lumpy shape, and surveying its chemical and physical properties.

     

    This information will be used to produce four top-level maps for identifying the site where sample will be collected. These maps will indicate which sites are scientifically most valuable, where the spacecraft can touch the asteroid safely, where navigation can deliver the spacecraft, and where there is enough loose rock that can be collected.

    About a dozen potential sampling sites will be chosen to start. Once this list has been winnowed down, reconnaissance maps will provide detailed views of the few remaining candidates. Later, after the sampling is done, the team will refine some maps to provide context for laboratory analysis of the material and to aid future studies of asteroids.

    “Each map will pull together different kinds of data to answer an independent question,” said Lucy Lim, OSIRIS-REx assistant project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

    One top-level map will deal with the safety of the spacecraft. The team has to make sure OSIRIS-REx won’t encounter hazards as it approaches Bennu and executes its touch-and-go – or TAG – maneuver. A mechanical arm that functions like a pogo stick will be extended from the spacecraft. The spacecraft will slowly approach the asteroid until the sample head at the end of the arm “kisses” the surface. Then, OSIRIS-REx will move away from the asteroid.

    The target area for TAG will be a circle that measures 164 feet (50 meters) across.

    “We have to be able to say with a high degree of confidence that the spacecraft will be safe if it touches the surface anywhere within that circle,” said David Lorenz, OSIRIS-REx TAG lead at Goddard.

    To determine that, the team will look at the tilt of the landscape, temperature readings, and whether plumes of material are coming off the asteroid. Another consideration will be the amount of light reflected by the surface. That’s important because OSIRIS-REx will bounce laser signals off the surface. If an area is too dark, there won’t be enough return signal; an area that’s too bright will blind the detector.

    Hazards such as large boulders and steep cliffs will be identified at a different stage.

    Another top-level map will address the ability to deliver OSIRIS-REx to its target. This is primarily a navigation question: Can the spacecraft be brought to a target site at the correct speed? (Both vertical speed and sideways speed matter.) If not, the spacecraft will be in danger of crashing or tipping over in a so-called stubbed-toe scenario.

    Bennu’s mass makes navigating a particular challenge. The asteroid will be one of the smallest objects ever visited by a planetary spacecraft. Bennu has very little gravity – so little that pressure from sunlight on OSIRIS-REx will almost equal the force of Bennu’s gravity. To stay in orbit, the spacecraft will have to remain within a mile and a half (about 2.4 kilometers) of Bennu. Any farther than that, and the pressure from sunlight will push it away from the asteroid.

    “The bottom line is that we’re paying a lot more attention to modeling very small accelerations, such as those exerted by solar radiation pressure, than previous missions have had to do,” said Michael Moreau, OSIRIS-REx flight dynamics system manager at Goddard.

    The third of these maps will determine where the right kind of surface material is located. The sample head, which looks like a big automotive air filter, can take in dirt, dust and bits of gravel measuring less than three-fourths of an inch (2 centimeters). At least 2 ounces (60 grams) of material needs to be collected, but the sample head can hold up to 4.4 pounds (2 kilograms).

    “Our goal is to maximize the amount of sample for OSIRIS-REx,” said Kevin Walsh, an OSIRIS-REx co-investigator at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “We have tested the sample head in the lab and know how it performs, and we will hunt for the right sort of environment on Bennu.”

    To find that, the team will look at images, tilt measurements and thermal information, which reveals how the material on the surface stores and releases heat. Coarser, rockier grains will absorb more heat from the sun and give it off slowly during the asteroid’s night. Fine-grained particles will lose heat very quickly once they are out of the sunlight.

    The fourth top-level map will evaluate the scientific value of the surface on Bennu. From remote observations, the team assumes that Bennu should contain water and organic – or carbon-rich – material, but they don’t know yet how this material is distributed across the surface.

    “Some of the most interesting sites will be those that offer fresh material – perhaps exposed by an impact, a crack or plume activity like comets have – and those with diverse material,” said Keiko Nakamura-Messenger, OSIRIS-REx sample site scientist and the deputy lead for curation at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “We also believe the coldest place has higher science value, because that is where organics are likely to be better preserved.”

    To figure this out, the team will look at geological features, mineralogy, chemical composition and temperature.

    All of these maps will be built on a 3-D shape model of Bennu. The team is already using a preliminary shape model, produced from radar observations of the asteroid. But a new shape model with much higher resolution will be made once OSIRIS-REx surveys Bennu.

    “The shape model is the framework – the one piece every map needs to have,” said Eric Palmer, an OSIRIS-REx collaborator at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson. “It also provides a way of correcting scientific observations so that you can make apples-to-apples comparisons.”

    The team has two ways of deriving the detailed shape of Bennu. One is to make precise measurements of the round-trip distance from the spacecraft to the asteroid using the on-board laser altimeter. The other is the so-called shape-by-shading technique – or stereophotoclinometry – which deduces the 3-D lay of the land from multiple images taken from different angles under a range of lighting conditions.

    Beshore pointed out one more reason to put all this effort into mapping. “These maps of Bennu are going to be beautiful,” he said.

    NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, provides overall mission management, systems engineering and safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta is the mission’s principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver is building the spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program. NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages New Frontiers for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

    Launch management is the responsibility of NASA’s Launch Services Program at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

  13. PI BLOG: The Journey to Kennedy Space Center

    May 24, 2016 -

    The OSIRIS-REx project continues to progress seamlessly through the Assembly, Test, and Launch Operations (ATLO) phase. We are now done with the AT portion of this phase and have started LO. The test phase ended with the completion of the last major environmental test: the thermal vacuum test. With the test program complete, the team made the transition to the launch site at Kennedy Space Center […]

  14. NASA Begins Launch Preparations for the First U.S. Asteroid Sampling Mission

    May 23, 2016 -

    NASA’s first spacecraft designed to return a piece of an asteroid to Earth arrived Friday, May 20, at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and has begun final preparations in advance of its September launch.

    The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is unloaded from a US Air Force -17 at NASA's Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility. Credit: University of Arizona/Erin Morton

    The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is unloaded from a US Air Force C-17 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility. Credit: University of Arizona/Erin Morton

    The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security – Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft will undergo final testing and fueling prior to being moved to its launch pad. The mission has a 34-day launch period beginning on Sept. 8.

    After launch, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will travel to the near-Earth asteroid Bennu and retrieve at least 60 grams (2.1 ounces) of pristine surface material and return it to Earth for study. Scientists expect that 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.

    “I’m extremely proud of our team and excited to be shipping the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to Kennedy Space Center, said Mike Donnelly, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “We still have a few major milestones to go, but I’m confident that we’ll get them done and be ready to launch on time and begin our mission to Bennu.”

    Over the weekend, the team transferred the spacecraft from the shipping container into a cleanroom and performed post-ship inspections to confirm that OSIRIS-REx arrived in good condition. The spacecraft is ready to begin its final round of testing and pre-launch checks, which are scheduled to commence later today when it will be installed onto a spin balance fixture. Further checks prior to launch will include software tests, instrument and power functional tests, spacecraft self-tests and deployments of the spacecraft’s solar panels.

    The spacecraft was transported from Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colorado, on Friday aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo plane. Lockheed Martin Space Systems designed and built the spacecraft in its Littleton, Colorado, facility.“Delivering OSIRIS-REx to the launch site marks an important milestone, one that’s been many years in the making,” said Rich Kuhns, OSIRIS-REx program manager at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company. “The spacecraft has undergone a rigorous environmental test

    After arriving at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft sits on a launch vehicle adapter ring in the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility. Credit: University of Arizona/Erin Morton

    After arriving at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft sits on a launch vehicle adapter ring in the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility. Credit: University of Arizona/Erin Morton

    program in Denver, but we still have plenty of work ahead of us. Many on our team have temporarily moved to Florida so they can continue final processing and have the spacecraft ready for the Sept. 8 launch date.”

    After launch, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has an approximately two-year cruise to reach Bennu in 2018. Upon arrival, OSIRIS-REx will spend two years conducting surface mapping and sample site reconnaissance operations before performing the sampling maneuver in 2020. OSIRIS-REx will then deliver the pristine sample of Bennu back to Earth in 2023.

    “This team has done a phenomenal job of assembling and testing the spacecraft,” said Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “As we begin the final preparations for launch, I am confident that this spacecraft is ready to perform its science operations at Bennu.  And I can’t wait to fly it.”

    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, provides overall mission management, systems engineering and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx.  Dante Lauretta is the mission’s principal investigator at the University of Arizona.  Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver built the spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages NASA’s New Frontiers Program for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Launch and countdown management is the responsibility of NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

  15. PI BLOG: Engineering an Impact on the New Frontier

    April 4, 2016 -

    It was a chilly December morning; I was 10 years old and sitting on the cold, hard floor of my elementary school library … too enthralled and focused on a 20-inch television screen to realize how uncomfortable I was.  […]

  16. PI BLOG: OSIRIS-REx Passes EMI/EMC Testing

    February 24, 2016 -

    The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has completed the Electromagnetic Interference/Electromagnetic Compatibility (EMI/EMC) system level test. This test has three objectives. The first objective is to test for Radiated Emissions, which are the release of electromagnetic energy from the spacecraft […]

  17. NASA Invites Public to Send Artwork to an Asteroid

    February 19, 2016 -

    NASA is calling all space enthusiasts to send their artistic endeavors on a journey aboard NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft. This will be the first U.S. mission to collect a sample of an asteroid and return it to Earth for study.

    OSIRIS-REx is scheduled to launch in September and travel to the asteroid Bennu. The #WeTheExplorers campaign invites the public to take part in this mission by expressing, through art, how the mission’s spirit of exploration is reflected in their own lives. Submitted works of art will be saved on a chip on the spacecraft. The spacecraft already carries a chip with more than 442,000 names submitted through the 2014 “Messages to Bennu” campaign.WeTheExplorers NASAgov OREx

    “The development of the spacecraft and instruments has been a hugely creative process, where ultimately the canvas is the machined metal and composites preparing for launch in September,” said Jason Dworkin, OSIRIS-REx project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “It is fitting that this endeavor can inspire the public to express their creativity to be carried by OSIRIS-REx into space.”

    A submission may take the form of a sketch, photograph, graphic, poem, song, short video or other creative or artistic expression that reflects what it means to be an explorer. Submissions will be accepted via Twitter and Instagram until March 20. For details on how to include your submission on the mission to Bennu, go to:

    http://www.asteroidmission.org/WeTheExplorers

    “Space exploration is an inherently creative activity,” said Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “We are inviting the world to join us on this great adventure by placing their art work on the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, where it will stay in space for millennia.”

    The spacecraft will voyage to the near-Earth asteroid Bennu to collect a sample of at least 60 grams (2.1 ounces) and return it to Earth for study. 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.

    Goddard provides overall mission management, systems engineering and safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. The University of Arizona, Tucson leads the science team and observation planning and processing. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver is building the spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program.  NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages New Frontiers for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

     

  18. PI BLOG: How REXIS Made It on the Spacecraft

    January 21, 2016 -

    OSIRIS-REx has achieved many major milestones over the past month. Of the more signification accomplishments is the installation of the Regolith X-ray Imaging Spectrometer on the spacecraft. The instrument team has successfully installed the REXIS Spectrometer and Solar X-ray Monitor on the spacecraft.  The Initial Power-on and functional tests were successfully completed on December 19.  However, there is more to the story of how REXIS made it on to the spacecraft.

  19. Student-Built Experiment Integrated onto NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Mission

    January 7, 2016 -
    MIT graduate students Pronoy Biswas (left) and Mark Chodas prepare the Regolith X-Ray Imaging Spectrometer (REXIS) instrument for flight. Credit: William Litant/MIT

    MIT graduate students Pronoy Biswas (left) and Mark Chodas prepare the Regolith X-Ray Imaging Spectrometer (REXIS) instrument for flight. Credit: William Litant/MIT

    A student-built experiment aboard NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission has been integrated onto the spacecraft.

    The Regolith X-ray Imaging Spectrometer (REXIS) will determine elemental abundances on the surface of asteroid Bennu, complementing the mineral and chemical mapping capabilities provided by two other instruments on the spacecraft.

    “The students worked incredibly hard to get to this point,” said Mike Donnelly, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “It is quite an accomplishment to develop a flight instrument and have it integrated to a spacecraft that’s headed to an asteroid.”

    REXIS will observe the solar X-rays and their interaction with the asteroid’s surface material, or regolith. The surface responds to this incoming energy by glowing faintly, or fluorescing, by emitting X-rays. These X-rays have an energy that is uniquely characteristic of the elements. REXIS is a telescope that images this X-ray fluorescence, allowing the production of maps of the different elements present on Bennu’s surface.

    REXIS brings together students and faculty from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University, both in Cambridge. After a competitive process REXIS was selected as a student collaboration experiment as part of OSIRIS-REx.

    The instrument will involve more than 100 students throughout the mission. Students at Harvard and MIT will perform data analysis as part of their coursework.

    “The REXIS instrument has already achieved its primary objective – to train the next generation of scientists and engineers,” said Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “This team should be proud of all they have accomplished. I look forward to seeing the REXIS data from Bennu and using it to learn more about the chemistry of the asteroid surface.”

    OSIRIS-REx will be the first U.S. mission to sample an asteroid. After launch in September 2016, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will travel to the near-Earth asteroid Bennu and retrieve at least 60 grams (2.1 ounces) of surface material and return it to Earth for study. Scientists expect that 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. OSIRIS-REx’s investigation will also inform future efforts to develop a mission to mitigate an asteroid impact on Earth, should one be required.

    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, provides overall mission management, systems engineering and safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx.  Dante Lauretta is the mission’s principal investigator at the University of Arizona. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver is building the spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages New Frontiers for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

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