Asteroid Sample Return Mission Proposed

Artist impression of the OSIRIS spacecraft. Image credit: NASA/U of ArizonaA new NASA mission is being proposed to fly out, extract a sample from a nearby asteroid, and return it to Earth. The asteroid is known as 1999 RQ36, and the mission is OSIRIS.

The mission’s acronym is a bit of a stretch. It’s “O” for origins, “SI” for spectral interpretation, “RI” for resource identification, and “S” for security (of our planet). Put those all goals together, and you get OSIRIS.

The mission itself, though, sounds really cool. If all goes will, it’ll launch in 2011, reach asteroid 1999 RQ36 in 2013 and acquire a sample, and then return it back to Earth by 2017.

1999 RQ36 is a useful target for two reasons: it’s close, and it’s covered in organic material that will provide scientists with valuable data about how our planet formed billions of years ago, and what conditions were around for the formation of life. OSIRIS will return 150 grams (5 ounces) of the asteroid to scientists here on Earth to study. It’s actually a lot cheaper and easier to send a sample return mission than to try and send sample analysis equipment to the asteroid.

OSIRIS was one of two dozen proposals given to NASA as part of its Discovery program. Which mission concepts will finally go ahead will be decided in late 2007.

Original Source: NASA News Release