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Forum:Satellites - Robotic Probes
Topic:NASA's OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission
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This is the third mission in NASA's New Frontiers Program. The first, New Horizons, was launched in 2006. It will fly by the Pluto-Charon system in July 2015, then target another Kuiper Belt object for study. The second mission, Juno, will launch in August to become the first spacecraft to orbit Jupiter from pole to pole and study the giant planet's atmosphere and interior. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages New Frontiers for the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Robert PearlmanNASA release
NASA announces asteroid naming contest for students

Students worldwide have an opportunity to name an asteroid from which an upcoming NASA mission will return the first samples to Earth.

Scheduled to launch in 2016, the mission is called the Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx). Samples returned from the primitive surface of the near-Earth asteroid currently called (101955) 1999 RQ36 could hold clues to the origin of the solar system and organic molecules that may have seeded life on Earth. NASA also is planning a crewed mission to an asteroid by 2025. A closer scientific study of asteroids will provide context and help inform this mission.

"Because the samples returned by the mission will be available for study for future generations, it is possible the person who names the asteroid will grow up to study the regolith we return to Earth," said Jason Dworkin, OSIRIS-REx project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

The competition is open to students under age 18 from anywhere in the world. Each contestant can submit one name, up to 16 characters long. Entries must include a short explanation and rationale for the name. Submissions must be made by an adult on behalf of the student. The contest deadline is Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012.

The contest is a partnership with The Planetary Society in Pasadena, Calif.; the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington; and the University of Arizona in Tucson.

A panel will review proposed asteroid names. First prize will be awarded to the student who recommends a name that is approved by the International Astronomical Union Committee for Small-Body Nomenclature.

"Our mission will be focused on this asteroid for more than a decade," said Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for the mission at the University of Arizona. "We look forward to having a name that is easier to say than (101955) 1999 RQ36."

The asteroid was discovered in 1999 by the Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) survey at MIT's Lincoln Laboratory. LINEAR is part of NASA's Near Earth Observation Program in Washington, which detects and catalogs near-Earth asteroids and comets. The asteroid has an average diameter of approximately one-third of a mile (500 meters).

"We are excited to have discovered the minor planet that will be visited by the OSIRIS-REx mission and to be able to engage students around the world to suggest a name for 1999 RQ36," said Grant Stokes, head of the Aerospace Division at MIT Lincoln Laboratory and principal investigator for the LINEAR program.

The asteroid received its designation of (101955) 1999 RQ36 from the Minor Planet Center, operated by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass. The center assigns an initial alphanumeric designation to any newly discovered asteroid once certain criteria are met to determine its orbit.

"Asteroids are just cool and 1999 RQ36 deserves a cool name!" said Bill Nye, chief executive officer for The Planetary Society. "Engaging kids around the world in a naming contest will get them tuned in to asteroids and asteroid science."

Robert PearlmanThe Planetary Society release
Nine-Year-Old Names Asteroid Target of NASA Mission in Competition Run by The Planetary Society

Asteroid (101955) 1999 RQ36 now has the much friendlier name "Bennu," thanks to a 3rd-grade student from North Carolina. That's good, because the asteroid now called Bennu will soon have a visitor. NASA's Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft is scheduled to launch in 2016, visit Bennu in 2018, and return a sample of the asteroid to Earth in 2023.

The name is the winning entry in an international student contest. Michael Puzio, a nine-year-old in North Carolina, suggested the name because he imagined the Touch-and-Go Sample Mechanism (TAGSAM) arm and solar panels on OSIRIS-REx look like the like neck and wings in drawings of Bennu, which Egyptians usually depicted as a gray heron.

More than 8,000 students from dozens of countries around the world entered the Name that Asteroid! competition. The contest was a partnership among the University of Arizona; The Planetary Society; and the Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) survey at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Lincoln Laboratory.

Contestants submitted one name along with a short explanation for their choice. Names were required to comply with naming guidelines from the Minor Planet Center. The competition partners assembled a Review Panel to select the winner and send the winner's name to the International Astronomical Union (IAU) Committee for Small Body Nomenclature, which officially approves the name.

Bruce Betts, Director of Projects for the Planetary Society and a judge in the competition, commented on the new name: "The name 'Bennu' struck a chord with many of us right away. While there were many great entries, the similarity between the image of the heron and the TAGSAM arm of OSIRIS-REx was a clever choice. The parallel with asteroids as both bringers of life and as destructive forces in the solar system also created a great opportunity to teach about planetary science."

"The process of choosing a name was much harder than we first imagined it would be", said Dante Lauretta, Principal Investigator of the OSIRIS-REx mission and another of the judges. "There were many excellent entries that would be fitting names and provide us an opportunity to educate the world about the exciting nature of our mission."

When he learned he had won the contest, Puzio said, "It's great! I'm the first kid I know that named part of the solar system!"

The heron-TAGSAM parallel wasn't the only similarity that struck the judges. The god Bennu was commonly associated with the gods Atum, the primeval deity, and Re, the Sun god. Astronomers think that the OSIRIS-REx target asteroid is a primitive object that dates back to the creation of the Solar System because earthly analogues for the asteroid Bennu are carbonaceous chondrite meteorites, which have compositions that are very similar to that of the Sun. In fact, our own Solar System was "reborn" from the remnants of stellar explosions more than 4.5 billion years ago, so origins, rebirth and duality are all part of the story of this asteroid.

Puzio's entry was one of 39 semifinalists. Semifinalists ranged in age from 5 to 17 and came from the USA, Brazil, France, India, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey. For more about the contest, and the finalists and semifinalists and their entries, including photos, visit: planetary.org/name.

The LINEAR survey team discovered the asteroid in 1999, early in NASA's Near Earth Observation Program, which detects and catalogs near-Earth asteroids and comets.

When an asteroid is first discovered, it is given a provisional designation like "1999 RQ36." The first four digits tell you what year it was discovered. The last four characters tell you when in that year it was discovered. 1999 RQ36 was the 916th object observed in the first half of September 1999. Once the asteroid's orbit is precisely known, it is then issued an official sequential number; 1999 RQ36 was the 101,955th asteroid to receive a number, so it is now formally known as 101955. Only about 5 percent of numbered asteroids have been given names, and Bennu is now one of these.
Robert PearlmanNASA release
NASA's Asteroid Sample Return Mission Moves into Development

NASA's first mission to sample an asteroid is moving ahead into development and testing in preparation for its launch in 2016.

The Origins-Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) passed a confirmation review Wednesday called Key Decision Point (KDP)-C. NASA officials reviewed a series of detailed project assessments and authorized the spacecraft's continuation into the development phase.

OSIRIS-REx will rendezvous with the asteroid Bennu in 2018 and return a sample of it to Earth in 2023.

"Successfully passing KDP-C is a major milestone for the project," said Mike Donnelly, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "This means NASA believes we have an executable plan to return a sample from Bennu. It now falls on the project and its development team members to execute that plan."

Bennu could hold clues to the origin of the solar system. OSIRIS-REx will map the asteroid's global properties, measure non-gravitational forces and provide observations that can be compared with data obtained by telescope observations from Earth. OSIRIS-REx will collect a minimum of 2 ounces (60 grams) of surface material.

"The entire OSIRIS-REx team has worked very hard to get to this point," said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona in Tucson. "We have a long way to go before we arrive at Bennu , but I have every confidence when we do, we will have built a supremely capable system to return a sample of this primitive asteroid."

The mission will be a vital part of NASA's plans to find, study, capture and relocate an asteroid for exploration by astronauts. NASA recently announced an asteroid initiative proposing a strategy to leverage human and robotic activities for the first human mission to an asteroid while also accelerating efforts to improve detection and characterization of asteroids.

Robert PearlmanNASA release
Countdown Begins for NASA's OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Mission

NASA's OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission began its countdown on December 9, at 7:43 PM EST, with 999 days remaining until the opening of the mission's launch window in September 2016.

"This is a pioneering effort, both technologically and scientifically," said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-Rex principal investigator from the University of Arizona, Tuscon. "Starting the countdown clock carries a lot of symbolism for us. After December 9, we will have a constant reminder of the time remaining to send OSIRIS-REx on his quest to return a sample of asteroid Bennu"

OSIRIS-REx is a University of Arizona-led mission that will visit a primitive, carbonaceous asteroid named Bennu in 2018, obtain a sample from its surface, and return it to the Earth in 2023.

"999 days seems a long time to get the spacecraft on the pad, but we know that time will pass quickly. There is a lot of work to do before our spacecraft begins its journey, and we have to be very disciplined to get everything done in time, " said Mike Donnelly, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

The world will be able to follow along on the university team website, and receive daily updates about the mission and asteroid science on Facebook. Twitter followers will get a special treat, as the spacecraft begins to report on its progress as it is comes together at the Lockheed Martin facility in Littleton, CO.

"Osiris was formed from pieces scattered across ancient Egypt, where he awoke as the bringer of life and ruler of the underworld," said Lauretta. "Our spacecraft has a similar story — it will be consist of components fabricated in locations around the world, that once together, will allow us to connect with a near-Earth object that is an accessible remnant from the formation of our solar system."

The OSIRIS-REx mission promises to help scientists address some basic questions about the composition of the very early solar system, the source of organic materials and water that made life possible on Earth, and to better predict the orbits of asteroids that represent collision threats to the Earth.

Robert PearlmanNASA release
NASA Invites Public to Send Names on an Asteroid Mission and Beyond

NASA is inviting people around the world to submit their names to be etched on a microchip aboard a spacecraft headed to the asteroid Bennu in 2016.

The "Messages to Bennu!" microchip will travel to the asteroid aboard the agency's Origins-Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft. The robotic mission will spend more than two years at the 1,760-foot (500-meter) wide asteroid. The spacecraft will collect a sample of Bennu's surface and return it to Earth in a sample return capsule.

"We're thrilled to be able to share the OSIRIS-REx adventure with people across the Earth, to Bennu and back," said Dante Lauretta, principal investigator of the OSIRIS-REx mission from the University of Arizona in Tucson. "It's a great opportunity for people to get engaged with the mission early and join us as we prepare for launch."

Those wishing to participate in "Messages to Bennu!" should submit their name online no later than Sept. 30.

After a person submits their name, they will be able to download and print a certificate documenting their participation in the OSIRIS-REx mission.

"You'll be part of humankind's exploration of the solar system --How cool is that?" said Bill Nye, chief executive officer of The Planetary Society, the organization collecting and processing the entries.

Participants who "follow" or "like" the mission on Facebook will receive updates on the location of their name in space from launch time until the asteroid samples return to Earth in 2023. Facebook fans also will be kept apprised of mission progress and late-breaking news through regular status updates.

The OSIRIS-REx mission goal is to address basic questions about the composition of the very early solar system, the source of organic materials and water that made life possible on Earth, and to better predict the orbits of asteroids that represent collision threats to the Earth. It will collect a minimum of 2 ounces (60 grams) of surface material.

Once the sample return capsule deploys, the spacecraft will be placed into a long-term solar orbit around the sun, along with the microchip and every name on it.

"It is exciting to consider the possibility that some of the people who register to send their names to Bennu could one day be a part of the team that analyzes the samples from the asteroid 10 years from now," said Jason Dworkin, mission project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

This mission will assist the agency in its efforts to identify the population of potentially hazardous near-Earth objects, as well as those suitable for asteroid exploration missions. The asteroid initiative brings together the best of NASA's science, technology and human exploration efforts to achieve President Obama's goal of sending humans to an asteroid by 2025.

Robert PearlmanNASA release
Construction to Begin on NASA Spacecraft Set to Visit Asteroid in 2018

NASA's team that will conduct the first U.S. mission to collect samples from an asteroid has been given the go-ahead to begin building the spacecraft, flight instruments and ground system, and launch support facilities.

This determination was made Wednesday after a successful Mission Critical Design Review (CDR) for NASA’s Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx). The CDR was held at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company in Littleton, Colo., April 1-9. An independent review board, comprised of experts from NASA and several external organizations, met to review the system design.

"This is the final step for a NASA mission to go from paper to product,” said Gordon Johnston, OSIRIS-REx program executive at NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC. “This confirms that the final design is ready to start the build-up towards launch.”

OSIRIS-REx is scheduled to launch in the fall of 2016, rendezvous with the asteroid Bennu in 2018 and return a sample of it to Earth in 2023. The spacecraft carries five instruments that will remotely evaluate the surface of Bennu. After more than a year of asteroid reconnaissance, the spacecraft will collect samples of at least 2 ounces (60 grams) and return them to Earth for scientists to study.

"Successfully passing mission CDR is a major accomplishment, but the hard part is still in front of us -- building, integrating and testing the flight system in support of a tight planetary launch window," said Mike Donnelly, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Key mission objectives focus on finding answers to basic questions about the composition of the very early solar system and the source of organic materials and water that made life possible on Earth. The mission will also aid NASA’s asteroid initiative and support the agency's efforts to understand the population of potentially hazardous near-Earth objects and characterize those suitable for future asteroid exploration missions. The initiative brings together the best of NASA's science, technology and human exploration efforts to achieve President Obama's goal of sending humans to an asteroid by 2025.

"The OSIRIS-REx team has consistently demonstrated its ability to present a comprehensive mission design that meets all requirements within the resources provided by NASA," said Dante Lauretta, principal investigator from the University of Arizona, Tucson. "Mission CDR was no exception. This is a great team. I know we will build a flight and ground system that is up to the challenges of this ambitious mission."

See here for discussion of NASA's OSIRIS-REx and its mission to asteroid Bennu.

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