NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is scheduled to launch from Florida today at 7:05 PM Eastern Time, or maybe later.
OSIRIS-REx is the short name given to the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification,
Security, Regolith Explorer. The mission's plan is to take the spacecraft to the Asteroid 101955 Bennu to study it -- PLUS
it will grab up to 2 kg (up to more than 4 pounds) of material from Bennu, and return that material back to Earth for study.
The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is traveling to Bennu, a carbonaceous asteroid whose regolith may record the earliest history of our solar system. 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, as
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, which will be critical to know in the event of an impact mitigation mission. Finally, asteroids like Bennu contain natural resources such
as water, organics, and precious metals. In the future, these asteroids may one day fuel the exploration of the solar system by robotic and manned
Asteroids such as Bennu are scientifically interesting because they are little time capsules of the raw materials from which the planets were formed.
It is thought that asteroids such a Bennu may contain the building blocks of life. and that the planets were creating with these building blocks
present. It is also though that much of Earth's water may come from certain kinds of asteroids.
[edit to add]
On top of that pure science interest, Asteroid Bennu is also of interest because it is an Earth-crossing asteroid that ahs a relatively high
possibility of impacting Earth between the years 2169 and 2199 (there are eight different possible time in that period that it could impact Earth).
So knowing more about the composition of asteroids such as Bennu -- and knowing the composition of Bennu specifically -- would be helpful in devising
plans to prevent such impacts.
The launch coverage begins at 4:30 Eastern Time with a two-hour launch window that begins at 7:05 PM
One thing, though -- we need to be patient with this mission, because it will take it a while. In order for this mission to be able to fit withing
NASA's already tight budget, it needed to be done in a cost-effective manner. That means instead of a large craft with a heavy and powerful booster
stage that sends it immediately towards the asteroid, the craft will take a round-about path first around the Sun, and then back toward Earth in order
to take advantage of a "gravity assist" boost from Earth that will help slingshot it toward Bennu, with arrival scheduled in about 2 years (August
...AND THEN after the sample is taken (see the video above for the manner it which the sample is gathered) there would be a waiting period for the
next opportunity for OSIRIS-REx and Earth to be in the right position for the sample return capsule to be able to make it back to Earth -- and the
window for that opens in March 2021. Then it will take 2 1/2 years for the small pasule to make it back to Earth.
So the sample would not be here until September 2023. But hopefully the wait would be worth it.
edit on 2016-9-8 by Soylent Green Is People because: (no reason given)
I stumbled upon a live NASA stream Tuesday which talked about this mission. I only caught the end of it in which an astrobiologist talked about what
they are planning on finding, if I remember correctly I believe he said that it is possible the asteroid will contain over one hundred different kinds
of amino acids and its very possible to discover new ones.
It will be awesome to see what they discover in 7 years.
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