The spacecraft that NASA will use to bring asteroid samples back to Earth has been put together by Lockheed Martin, the company announced in an Oct. 21 press release.
The Origins, Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-REx, will now be put through environmental testing at Lockheed Martin’s Space Systems facility in Denver. Eventually, the spacecraft will venture to Bennu, an asteroid full of carbon which NASA believes could provide information on the beginning of our solar system.
“This is an exciting time for the program, as we now have a completed spacecraft and the team gets to test drive it, in a sense, before we actually fly it to Bennu,” said Rich Kuhns, OSIRIS-REx program manager at Lockheed Martin Space Systems. “The environmental test phase is an important time in the mission, as it will reveal any issues with the spacecraft and instruments, while here on Earth, before we send it into deep space.”
During its five month stay in Denver, workers will subject the spacecraft to a battery of tests that will mimic the conditions it will face in space. Those tests involve a thermal vacuum, launch acoustics, a shock sensation similar to the action involved during separation and deployment, vibration, and electromagnetic interference and compatibility.
“This phase is critical to mission success, and I am confident that we have built the right system for the job,” said Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona, regarding the testing.
The spacecraft is beginning its environmental testing phase on schedule, according to Mike Donnelly, the OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Following the rigorous succession of tests, OSIRIS-REx is slated to be moved to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in May 2016. While at the facility, NASA will perform the work necessary for the aircraft to launch in September 2016.
Because the process is moving at the proper pace, Donnelly said, NASA will have more options if any setbacks occur during final launch preparations.
When OSIRIS-REx does in fact take flight, it will travel to Bennu, where a 2.1-ounce sample of the asteroid will be retrieved. Experts believe that sample could help to not only provide a greater understanding of the solar system, but to also determine how water and other organic molecules became existent on Earth. Scientists will also use the information to better form a contingency plan to lessen the damage caused by an asteroid’s collision with the Earth, if that situation were to arise.
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