The OSIRIS-REx Mission


The Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification and Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission seeks answers to questions that are central to the human experience: Where did we come from? What is our destiny? OSIRIS-REx is going to Bennu, a carbon-rich asteroid that records the earliest history of our Solar System, and bringing a piece of it back to Earth. Bennu may contain the molecular precursors to the origin of life and the Earth’s oceans. Bennu is also one of the most potentially hazardous asteroids. It has a relatively high probability of impacting the Earth late in the 22nd century. OSIRIS-REx will determine Bennu’s physical and chemical properties. This will be critical for future scientists to know when developing an impact mitigation mission. Finally, asteroids like Bennu contain natural resources such as water, organics, and precious metals. Future space exploration and economic development will rely on asteroids for these precious materials. Asteroids may one day fuel the exploration of the Solar System by robotic and manned spacecraft.

Science Objectives

As leftover debris from the solar system formation process that began over four billion years ago, asteroids can teach us a lot about the history of the Sun and planets. This is the first U.S. mission to return samples from an asteroid to Earth, addressing multiple NASA Solar System Exploration objectives. Key OSIRIS-REx science objectives include:

  • Return and analyze a sample of Bennu
  • Document the topography, mineralogy, and chemistry of the sample site
  • Globally map the topography, mineralogy, and chemistry of Bennu
  • Measure the orbit deviation caused by non-gravitational forces
  • Compare observations made at the asteroid to ground-based observations

Instrument Payload

To meet science objectives OSIRIS-REx will have a payload of scientific, navigation, and communication instruments on board, including:

  • Remote Sensing:
    • OLA: OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter
    • OCAMS: OSIRIS-REx CAMera Suite
    • OTES: OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer
    • OVIRS: OSIRIS-REx Visible and InfraRed Spectrometer
    • REXIS: REgolith X-ray Imaging Spectrometer
  • Sampling:
    • TAGSAM: Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism
    • SRC: Sample Return Capsule
  • Navigation:
    • GN&C LIDAR: Guidance, Navigation, and Control LIDAR
    • TAGCAMS: Touch-and-Go Camera System

Mission Timeline

OSIRIS-REx launched on September 8, 2016, and will arrive at asteroid Bennu in December 2018. The spacecraft will operate at asteroid Bennu for over 400 days. This 14-year mission will return a sample that scientists will study for decades with ever more capable instruments and new techniques. To learn more about the OSIRIS-REx timeline you can start at Mission Launch.