Source: AsteroidMission.org

“The first trillionaire there will ever be is the person who mines asteroids.” This quote by Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson posits that asteroids are more than just dinosaur killers—they’re the real estate market of the future. We’re still a few years away from seeing such fortunes made in the heavens above and beyond our home planet, but future land barons of outer space will trace their riches to a robotic spacecraft launching this September. That’s when NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission is scheduled to launch, with the aim of collecting a sample from an asteroid and returning it to Earth in 2023.

(Full Disclosure: I was selected to attend the OSIRIS-REx NASA Social earlier this Spring and self-funded the entire trip from my home in Los Angeles, California to Lockheed Martin’s facility in Littleton, Colorado. Lockheed Martin were amazing hosts and served NASA Social attendees a delicious lunch in their employee cafeteria. They also hooked us up with some very cool stickers.)

Source: NASA

If successful, OSIRIS-REx will return only a tiny sample to Earth, but what that sample will represent is immeasurably greater than a few dozen grams of sweet, sweet regolith. OSIRIS-REx is a critical step forward in our spacefaring future, as illustrated by the mission’s objectives: Reveal information about the solar system’s early history, help to mitigate asteroid impact hazards, enable a future human mission to an asteroid and develop interplanetary commerce. By any measure, those are four giant leaps—truly massive aspirations for a robot spacecraft barely taller than an NBA player.

Source: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab

Before we jump into the really good stuff about this mission, let’s first review some basics by clarifying what an asteroid actually is.

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From NASA:

Asteroids, sometimes called minor planets, are rocky remnants left over from the early formation of our solar system about 4.6 billion years ago.

Most of this ancient space rubble can be found orbiting the sun between Mars and Jupiter within the main asteroid belt. Asteroids range in size from Vesta - the largest at about 329 miles (530 kilometers) in diameter - to bodies that are less than 33 feet (10 meters) across. The total mass of all the asteroids combined is less than that of Earth’s Moon.

So, “asteroid” is used like a catchall term for objects that are absolutely massive, others that are quite small and basically everything in-between. Asteroids are found in many different shapes, particularly in small ones which commonly look like a cigar or dumbbell. And just what are they made of? I thought you’d never ask...

From NASA:

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The three broad composition classes of asteroids are C-, S-, and M-types. The C-type (chondrite) asteroids are most common, probably consist of clay and silicate rocks, and are dark in appearance. They are among the most ancient objects in the solar system. The S-types (“stony”) are made up of silicate materials and nickel-iron. The M-types are metallic (nickel-iron).

Think of asteroids as the leftover stuff that didn’t accrete into planets, comets or the Sun when the solar system formed—that is, when a huge cloud of gas and dust started spinning around, possibly as the result of a nearby supernova. Today, most asteroids exist in the asteroid belt (a region of space between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter) with a smaller concentration in the Kuiper belt at the outer edge of our solar system.

Let’s also review some basic vocabulary. When an asteroid enters the atmosphere, it’s called a meteor. If there’s anything left of that meteor when it impacts the planet’s surface, it’s called a meteorite. In the picture above, I must’ve been so overcome with excitement to be holding an actual meteorite that I goofed on the caption and called it an asteroid. Try not to make the same mistake as me because I’m still losing sleep over it.

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Now, as for OSIRIS-REx, let’s start with the most obvious question: OSIRIS? REx? What does that even mean? Here’s what the name stands for: Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security - Regolith Explorer. This is what NASA means by those terms:

From NASA:

O - Origins

Return and analyze a sample of a pristine carbon-rich asteroid to study the nature, history and distribution of its minerals and organic material.

SI - Spectral Interpretation

Define the global properties of a primitive carbon-rich asteroid to allow for direct comparison with existing ground-based telescopic data for all asteroids.

RI - Resource Identification

Map the global properties, chemistry, and mineralogy of a primitive carbon-rich asteroid to define its geologic and dynamic history and provide context for the returned sample.

S - Security

Measure the Yarkovsky effect (a force caused by the emission of heat from a rotating asteroid that can change its orbit over time) on a potentially hazardous asteroid and learn which asteroid properties contribute to this effect.

REx - Regolith Explorer

Document the texture, morphology, geochemistry, and spectral properties of the regolith (surface material) at the sampling site.

But wait, there’s more! The meaning of the OSIRIS-REx name goes even deeper. The name was also chosen because of the connection to ancient Egyptian mythology. Just like the Egyptian deity Osiris is associated with the spread of agriculture throughout the Nile River, OSIRIS-REx “seeks to return samples of a primitive asteroid that may contain the ‘seeds of life’ that led to the origin of life on Earth.

Oh, and it also has one of the coolest mission patches I’ve seen in a very long time. Just check out this tweet (above) from Matt King, a Senior Systems Engineer with Lockheed Martin.

The History of OSIRIS-REx

Even though sample return missions are nothing new, it has taken well over a decade for the stars to align for a U.S. asteroid sample return mission to come to fruition. The OSIRIS-REx mission’s concept was originally proposed under NASA’s Discovery Program (a class of lower-budget missions designed to explore the Solar System, each led by a Principal Investigator from academia) in 2004 by the late planetary scientist Dr. Michael Drake of University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory (LPL). Dr. Drake, who passed away in 2011, was among Earth’s preeminent extraterrestrial geologists and dedicated his career to advancing our understanding of life’s origin story.

In 2006, NASA selected the OSIRIS-REx concept for further review (then known simply as OSIRIS). The mission concept was further refined over time was eventually chosen for additional review under NASA’s New Frontiers Program for “medium-class” spacecraft in 2009. The New Frontiers Program proved to be the right home within NASA for the ambitious OSIRIS-REx proposal, as it’s scope and budget proved to be excessive for the aforementioned Discovery Program. While Discovery Program budgets are capped at $425 million, the estimated $800 million OSIRIS-REx budget is comparable to its New Frontiers stablemates New Horizons (estimated total cost = $700 million) and Juno (estimated total cost = $1.1 billion).

Today the Principal Investigator for the OSIRIS-REx mission’s is Dr. Dante Lauretta, also of University of Arizona’s LPL. It’s worth noting that Dr. Lauretta serves as Co-Investigator for JAXA’s (the Japanese Space Agency) Hayabusa2 mission, a separate asteroid sample return effort that launched in 2014. With a lead role in two of Earth’s major asteroid sample return missions, Dr. Lauretta is surely a figure to follow in the coming years. (Note: You can follow his personal blog about OSIRIS-REx here)

Why Is NASA Going To An Asteroid And Bringing Back A Sample?

Source: AsteroidMission.org

OSIRIS-REx isn’t NASA’s first sample return mission (how do you think all those moon rocks got here?) nor is it NASA’s first mission to an asteroid. It isn’t even the first asteroid sample return mission (that credit goes to JAXA’s Hayabusa). But OSIRIS-REx is NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission, and it will kickstart a flurry of future asteroid missions for the space agency as well as the commercial sector.

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What makes the return of an asteroid sample to Earth so important to the science community? How do we make trillions of dollars mining the space frontier? Are we there yet? Fear not, those answers are all coming soon. But first, we need to talk about what happens When Asteroids Attack.

In 2013, a then-unknown asteroid estimated at 65 feet in diameter came streaking into Earth’s atmosphere over Russia’s Ural region at speeds of roughly 40,000 miles per hour. The meteor exploded at high altitude above the city of Chelyabinsk in spectacular fashion, releasing 20-30 times more energy than the atomic weapon detonated over Hiroshima, Japan in World War II. Property was damaged for dozens of miles throughout the area, with repair estimates exceeding tens of millions of dollars. Miraculously, no lives were lost but over 1,200 people were injured in the event.

Source: OpenStreetMap community/Wikicommons

Earth’s asteroid problem is ticking like a time bomb, and the Chelyabinsk meteor is the most poignant reminder of that sobering truth we should ever need. It should be common understanding that asteroid impacts are both frequent and inevitable, just like earthquakes in Southern California and lens flares in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek movies.

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The vision of a multi-planetary human race in the near term (as suggested by Elon Musk and others) is perfectly logical if we’re truly going to get serious about avoiding the same fate as the dinosaurs. With this in mind, OSIRIS-REx symbolizes important progress towards preventing a future extinction by asteroid.

We are constantly discovering new asteroids (and you can too!) and we’ve even begun finding evidence of asteroids in other solar systems. Experts with NASA’s Near Earth Object Program estimate that over 90 percent of the extremely large asteroids (those measuring larger than 1 km in diameter) in our celestial neighborhood have been identified.

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On the flip side, our catalog of smaller asteroids (those with a diameter under measuring 1 km or less) is terrifyingly incomplete. Despite ongoing efforts to scan the sky (like the Pan-STARRS telescope operated by the University of Hawaii and the LINEAR program run by MIT’s Lincoln Lab) we still only know about one percent of all asteroids measuring up to 100 meters across. And as the Chelyabinsk event reminds us, asteroids in this class are more than capable of doing an incredible amount of damage.

Luckily for us, most asteroids don’t threaten Earth. For the Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHA’s, in NASA-speak) that do pose a danger, our atmosphere works like a gigantic shield, causing incoming objects to break apart while releasing energy in the form of bright light, infrasound and a blast wave. This is what many people call a “shooting star,” but since you’ve read this far, you know that’s really called a meteor (or perhaps a piece of deorbiting space junk, or maybe even an Iridium flare). Whatever the case may be, good for you. This is also why the moon’s surface is covered in craters, because it has an extremely thin atmosphere to protect it from asteroid bombardment.

OSIRIS-REx will help mitigate future asteroid impact hazards on Earth by vastly improving our understanding of something called the Yarkovsky effect. In simple terms, the Yarkovsky effect is the very gradual but steady shift in an asteroid’s orbit caused by the sun’s energy heating up the asteroid’s surface. That heat eventually has to go somewhere, and eventually asteroids radiate the energy back into space. This process acts like a micro thruster and over time, the force it emits can alter an asteroid’s orbit by hundreds of millions of miles. We simply can’t defend the planet from asteroids if we’re using inaccurate predictions about their movements, so the Yarkovsky effect is the perfect course of study for OSIRIS-REx.

Now that we’ve saved the world, let’s talk about that precious regolith sample. Researchers have long suspected that asteroids contain the answers to fundamental questions about how life emerged on our planet, and perhaps even elsewhere. As remnants of the solar system’s formation, asteroids are thought to harbor key information about where we came from, sort of like a 4.6 billion year old time capsule. Could asteroids contain water or organics ? Did life originate somewhere off-planet and arrive on Earth as a result of collisions with asteroids? Could some form of life exist on asteroids today? These questions underscore the need to go to an asteroid, collect a sample and return it to Earth for further investigation. The truth is out there.

But wouldn’t it be so much easier for scientists to just study meteorites here on Earth? Of course it would, but nobody said this was going to be easy. More importantly, meteorites become contaminated very quickly, and whatever useful scientific information they may have contained is rapidly lost. Gathering a pristine asteroid sample from the source is the only way to know for sure, which is exactly what OSIRIS-REx is designed to do (more on this soon).

As humans further advance as a spacefaring civilization, we will exploit asteroids in a variety of ways. NASA is currently working on the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), which would send a robotic spacecraft to an asteroid and instruct it to latch itself onto a boulder on the asteroid’s surface. It would then break that boulder away from the rest of the asteroid and tow it into orbit around our moon. Subsequent missions would send robots and astronauts to the boulder for analysis, perhaps even turning it into a space station.

Another concept calls for turning asteroids into spaceships, which could be aimed at other asteroids as a means of intercepting incoming threats. There’s also firms like Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources with big plans to mine asteroids for their precious metals and even to produce finished products like rocket fuel in space. Dr. Robert Zubrin of The Mars Society has even proposed a “triangle trade” between Earth, a future human settlement on Mars and the asteroid belt. But before we can start terraforming planets and cashing those trillion dollar checks, we have to get to know one asteroid in particular.

Asteroid 101955 Bennu: This Is It

Source: Arecibo Observatory

Internet, meet Bennu. Bennu, Internet.

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Now that you’ve been properly introduced, let’s uncover what makes this particular asteroid the best possible destination for OSIRIS-REx. With so many asteroids to choose from, how did NASA select Bennu? The graphic below portrays the criteria used to narrow down their choice:

Source: AsteroidMission.org

The first determining factor was the asteroid’s distance from Earth. The mission’s ideal target needed to be in our general vicinity, with a distance between 1.6 AU and 0.8 AU (AU stands for Astronomical Unit, which equals approximately 93 million miles or the mean distance between Earth and the Sun). Asteroids in this region are known as Near Earth Objects (NEO’s), and as the name suggests, they’re much easier to reach than faraway regions like the asteroid belt. The proximity criteria reduced the field of possible asteroid destinations from over half a million to 7,000.

Just because an asteroid is in Earth’s backyard doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be easy to get to. The next criteria was to filter the remaining candidates by their orbital eccentricity and inclination, which are characteristics of an object’s orbit. For example, Bennu has an orbital eccentricity of 0.2038, which makes its orbit slightly more elliptical in shape than Earth’s (Earth’s orbital eccentricity is 0.0167; a perfectly circular orbit is expressed as zero). Having these advantageous orbital characteristics will allow OSIRIS-REx to rendezvous using the least amount of propellant. These specifications reduced the sample size to just 192 candidate asteroids.

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From there, mission planners identified which of these remaining asteroids would be large enough (greater than 200 meters in diameter) for OSIRIS-REx to safely survey and collect a sample. In the same way that it’s much easier to land an aircraft on a 12,000 foot runway than it is on the pitching deck of an aircraft carrier, smaller asteroids are going to be more challenging to land on than large ones. Small asteroids also tend to send pieces of themselves trailing off into space as they spin, something that could easily damage or incapacitate OSIRIS-REx during the critical sample collection maneuver. After ruling out any asteroids that didn’t meet the size requirement, only 26 prospective destinations remained.

Next, NASA sorted their options based on their composition to identify which asteroid would offer the greatest potential for finding telltale organic molecules (remember that the oldest asteroids in the solar system are though to contain this information). Fourteen of the remaining asteroids were immediately eliminated from consideration because their makeup was unknown. That left just 12 to choose from, of which only five were known to be of the desired age and chemical makeup.

Out of these five choices, planners settled on Bennu. In addition to being a very special B-type asteroid (a subset of the C-type noted previously) there’s a one in 2000 chance that it will collide with Earth sometime around the year 2150. At approximately 500 meters in diameter (25 times larger than the Chelyabinsk asteroid) and weighing as much as 85.5 million tons, Bennu could cause an unmitigated disaster in a potential collision with Earth. This is precisely why NASA is sending OSIRIS-REx there, so we can learn as much as possible while there’s still time to intervene.

What Instruments Does OSIRIS-REx Carry?

Source: AsteroidMission.org

Collecting a sample isn’t the only thing OSIRIS-REx will be doing during its visit to Bennu. A suite of highly advanced sensors is coming along for the ride, each of which will provide a discrete capability to help us better understand what an asteroid is made of and how it behaves in space. Below is a closer look at each of the instruments in the OSIRIS-REx science package.

Source: AsteroidMission.org

The OSIRIS-REx Camera Suite (OCAMS) is a system of three cameras that will capture imagery of Bennu throughout the OSIRIS-REx mission. OCAMS was designed and built by University of Arizona’s LPL and consists of the POLYCAM, MAPCAM and SAMCAM telescopes. While each of the three OCAMS instruments provides a different imaging capability, they’re all controlled by the same module on the spacecraft.

Source: AsteroidMission.org

OSIRIS-REx will take the first pictures of Bennu using POLYCAM, which will happen during the spacecraft’s approach. As the asteroid gets closer, MAPCAM will provide images of any satellites, look for offgassing and take high resolution images of the site on Bennu’s surface selected for sample collection.

Source: AsteroidMission.org

SAMCAM, short for Sampling Camera, will image the sample collection maneuver, snapping a picture every three to five seconds as OSIRIS-REx makes physical contact with Bennu. SAMCAM will also play an important role by providing verification that the spacecraft was actually able to collect regolith after an attempt to do so is made.

Source: AsteroidMission.org

In addition to the OCAMS optical instruments, OSIRIS-REx carries the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA) built by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). OLA’s task is to provide ranging data for the detailed topographic maps of Bennu’s surface needed for choosing the best possible site to attempt the sample collection maneuver. OLA does this by emitting laser pulses measured by a LIDAR detector, similar to those used in autonomous vehicles.

Source: AsteroidMission.org

The OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer (OTES), contributed by Arizona State University, is one of three spectrometers on the spacecraft and will provide measurements in the infrared (IR) spectrum. OTES will sense different heat signatures among the minerals in Bennu’s surface, allowing scientists to discern the chemical composition at various points of interest.

Source: AsteroidMission.org

The OSIRIS-REx Visible and Infrared Spectrometer (OVIRS), provided by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, is the second spectrometer onboard the spacecraft. OVIRS will measure the chemistry and reflectance of Bennu in the visible and infrared spectrum. The spectral maps that OVIRS will create of Bennu will illuminate which organic compounds are present on the asteroid’s surface.

Source: AsteroidMission.org

The Regolith X-ray Imaging Spectrometer (REXIS) was created by a joint team of faculty, research scientists and students from MIT and Harvard. This instrument is the third and final spectrometer onboard OSIRIS-REx and will examine Bennu by measuring solar induced X-ray fluoresence.

Source: AsteroidMission.org

During the NASA Social tour of Lockheed Martin, our group was invited to an observation area overlooking the high bay clean room where OSIRIS-REx (and many other spacecraft) were assembled. Each of the aforementioned instruments can be seen facing upwards on the top “deck.” The bright white cone-shaped thing in the middle is the Sample Return Capsule (SRC).

Source: Collin Krum

How Will OSIRIS-REx Collect A Sample From Bennu?

Now that we know exactly what instruments OSIRIS-REx is bringing to survey Bennu’s surface and choose the ideal site from which to collect a sample, how does the regolith actually get inside the spacecraft? The answer is by a maneuver that misson planners have dubbed “Touch-And-Go.”

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The story of how “Touch-And-Go” found its place on the OSIRIS-REx sample return mission mission begins in the driveway of a Lockheed Martin mad scientist/mechanical engineer named Jim Harris. Using a plastic Solo party cup and some crazy ingenuity, Harris seems to have solved the problem of how to trap particles inside a container while operating on the surface of a potentially killer asteroid tumbling through deep space with practically zero gravity (“the scariest environment imaginable”). With 100,000 times less gravity than Earth’s, anything that disrupts Bennu’s surface could send regolith particles flying in every direction except into the collection device.

To understand how Harris’ invention works, imagine turning a Solo cup upside down so the rim is touching the ground. You’ll know that you’ve done this correctly because the cup is no longer capable of holding liquid. The next step is to shoot compressed air into the cup through a tube, causing whatever dirt particles that were inside to be disturbed in such a way that they are lifted off the surface, while remaining captured by the walls of the container. Meanwhile, the jet of air is allowed to escape via filtered holes cut in the sides of the cup.

Harris’ hacked Solo cup driveway creation was refined by Lockheed Martin and ultimately became known as TAGSAM, or Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism. To the dismay of the Dart Container Corporation, Lockheed Martin decided not to use a Solo cup in the final TAGSAM design. What the TAGSAM architecture on OSIRIS-REx does consist of is a spring-loaded articulating robotic arm measuring 11 feet in length, which is anchored to the spacecraft on one end and holds the sample collection head at the other.

Source: AsteroidMission.org

When OSIRIS-REx has completed its survey of Bennu’s surface and is finally ready to perform the “Touch-And-Go” maneuver, the robotic arm will slowly lower the sample collection head onto Bennu’s surface. Once the spacecraft detects that the sample head has touched down, a charge of nitrogen gas will be sent through the sample collection head. The result should be a pristine sample trapped inside the head, which the robotic arm will lift off the asteroid’s surface just five seconds later.

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But how will OSIRIS-REx know that the TAGSAM worked as designed and actually collected regolith from Bennu’s surface? There are at least two ways to verify a successful sample collection attempt. With the robotic arm still fully extended, NASA will instruct the spacecraft to rotate around its main axis. This will reveal any changes to its moment of inertia, which could be detected with as little as 150 grams of regolith sample in the collection head.

After a “Touch-And-Go” attempt, the TAGSAM arm will retract the sample collection head towards the spacecraft so that the SAMCAM instrument can visually inspect it. These pictures will be pivotal in assessing whether another “Touch-And-Go” attempt is necessary (the TAGSAM head carries enough nitrogen gas to make three attempts) or if OSIRIS-REx can proceed with stowing the sample collection head inside the Sample Return Capsule (SRC). But what if TAGSAM strikes out and uses all three nitrogen gas charges unsuccessfully? The sample collection head is equipped with 26 Velcro-like pads, which should eliminate any chance that OSIRIS-REx comes home completely empty-handed.

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Assuming everything goes according to plan, TAGSAM will collect a regolith sample weighing between 60 and 2,000 grams. Sixty grams (about the same as a handful of crayons) or even 2,000 grams (4.4 pounds) doesn’t sound like much, but it would surpass every other sample return mission since the Apollo program—a jackpot for the science community. During testing, TAGSAM has successfully collected several times the required minimum for the mission to be considered a success.

That testing regime is what gave Lockheed Martin enough confidence in TAGSAM to entrust the design with such an important task for the OSIRIS-REx mission. In addition to all of the standard vibration testing, thermal cycling and system integration checks that each component on the spacecraft must endure, a version of TAGSAM was flown aboard NASA’s “Vomit Comet” aircraft for operation in simulated zero gravity, and a special “asteroid wall” was even erected inside the Space Operations Simulation Center on Lockheed’s sprawling Littleton campus. This allows engineers to mimic the conditions they expect TAGSAM to encounter during the brief brush with Bennu’s surface.

Source: Collin Krum

The final step in collecting the regolith sample is securing the TAGSAM head inside the Sample Return Capsule (SRC). The SRC is the part of OSIRIS-REx that will separate from the spacecraft and bring the sample back to Earth while protecting it from the extremes of reentry. OSIRS-REx is using a slightly modified version of the SRC that was flown on NASA’s Stardust mission (also engineered by Lockheed Martin), which successfully returned a sample from comet Wild 2 in 2006. This was a strategic decision in planning the OSIRIS-REx mission because it allowed for the reduction of both risk and cost. The SRC is also the only component of OSIRIS-REx that will return to Earth after it launches in September.

How Will OSIRIS-REx Get To Bennu And Back?

Although OSIRIS-REx doesn’t launch into space for a few more months, the first step in the mission’s journey took place last Friday. That’s when Lockheed Martin carefully loaded the spacecraft onto a United States Air Force C-17A Globemaster III strategic airlifter at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colorado.

The C-17 then flew to the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida, where the spacecraft was unloaded and secured in a clean room inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility (PHSF). In the coming months, it will be integrated with a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket before undergoing final preparations for launch.

The video above shows one of three previous Atlas V launches in the “411" configuration, the same that will send OSIRIS-REx to Bennu. This is a somewhat unique arrangement for the Atlas V, as it features a single solid rocket booster attached to the first stage along the rocket’s centerline. The reason why this configuration is able to fly without tipping over or spiraling out of control during launch is because the Atlas V’s main engines can slew several degrees to counteract the asymmetrical booster.

The Atlas V’s Centaur upper stage will send OSIRIS-REx to escape velocity, at which point it the spacecraft will spend the next two years calibrating its instruments while en route to Bennu. During this phase of the mission, the spacecraft will swing back around Earth at one point for a gravity assist flyby maneuver.

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Things will really start to get exciting in August 2018, when OSIRIS-REx begins to decelerate ahead of its arrival at Bennu. By October, it will have arrived at the asteroid and begun a preliminary survey. Over the next year, the spacecraft will map the asteroid’s surface and scan its chemical composition ahead of the “Touch-And-Go” maneuver.

By late 2019, NASA will have enough information from the survey to attempt a “Touch-And-Go.” OSIRIS-REx will then make up to three attempts using the TAGSAM mechanism. Assuming everything works, TAGSAM will stow the sample inside the SRC, but due to the position of Bennu relative to Earth at that time, the spacecraft will have to wait until March of 2021 for the best time to return home.

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After OSIRIS-REx waves goodbye to Bennu, it will spend the next two years cruising back towards Earth, arriving in September 2023. The final phase of the mission will see the SRC jettisoned from the spacecraft, sending it streaking back to Earth at nearly 28,000 miles per hour. At an altitude of 1.9 miles above the Earth’s surface, the SRC will deploy parachutes to slow the capsule’s descent. Just like the Genesis and Stardust missions, NASA will retrieve the SRC from the Utah Test and Training Range. From ignition to touchdown, the journey of OSIRIS-REx will take seven years.

Would You Like To Know More?

Please leave me a comment with your questions! I will update the post with an answer. This mission has piqued my curiosity and I look forward to learning as much about it as I can. There’s a long way to go, but so much to look forward to.

You should also definitely visit and bookmark www.AsteroidMission.org for official updates on the OSIRIS-REx mission. That’s where I obtained most of the images in this post, which the Arizona Board of Regents says is fine to do as long as it is being used for educational purposes.

Thank You!

Thank you for reading my article on OSIRIS-REx! I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed attending the OSIRIS-REx NASA Social event. If I’m ever lucky enough to be selected for another NASA Social (I have two applications pending at the time of this writing) I will gladly put together another feature like this. Seeing this spacecraft is by far the most interesting thing that I have done lately, but my favorite part of the whole experience was connecting with the other NASA Social attendees. Here’s a picture of our group at the end of the tour:

Follow the author on Twitter: @collinkrum