OSIRIS-REx has launched!

Computer model of OSIRIS-REx with Bennu. Credit: NASA

Computer model of OSIRIS-REx with Bennu. Credit: NASA

Good morning everyone! 

Just wanted to post a quick blog on the OSIRIS-REx mission! Like all NASA acronyms, this mission stands for: Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer. This is NASA's first asteroid sampling mission, and it all began with a beautiful launch yesterday at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on board an Atlas V rocket. Now we wait 7 years for its return...

Atlas V rocket holding the OSIRIS-REx payload at take-off. Credit: United Launch Alliance. 

Atlas V rocket holding the OSIRIS-REx payload at take-off. Credit: United Launch Alliance. 

What is it going to do?

OSIRIS-REx will travel to a near-Earth asteroid, named Bennu, and bring back a 2-oz. sample of the asteroid's surface for return studies. Each of the acronym's features represent a different objective to its main goal. Origins: Return and study a carbon-rich asteroid sample. Spectral Interpretation: provide direct observations to help ground telescopes. Resource Identification: Map the chemistry and mineralogy of the asteroid surface. Security: Measure the effect of sunlight on the surface of the asteroid (called the Yarkovsky Effect, which I'll cover in a later blog). Regolit-Explorer: analyze the loose gravel on the surface compared to sub-centimeter depth. 

Why Bennu?

Bennu has been studied by ground-based telescope spectra to have potential early-Solar System materials. That is, this asteroid is very old, called a "primitive asteroid", and has had very little melting and re-melting through the thousands and thousands of years its been made. Actually, it's possibly older than 4.5 billion years! It is also possible that this asteroid may have organic compounds, such as carbon and hydrogen based molecules. This asteroid is studied to be about 60 million tons and about the size of the Empire State Building! 

What does this mean for NASA and the planetary community?

This would be a first, actually several firsts, for NASA. 1- we will have a sample-return of a planetary object by a robotic mission, not by astronauts. 2- We will be able to study a pre-Solar System object and its materials to how our planets may have formed through chemistry and minerals. 3- Bennu is a near-Earth object, which has the statistic (though very small) potential to hit Earth. By studying the asteroids movements and composition, we may have a better understanding for deflecting future and closer asteroids. 

Here's a fun video about the excitement:

Caitlin Ahrens