NASA’s Outbound OSIRIS-Rex Asteroid Sampler Snaps ‘First-Light’ Images

On Sept. 19, 2016 the OCAMS MapCam camera recorded a star field in Taurus, north of the constellation Orion as part of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft’s post-launch instrument check. Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona
On Sept. 19, 2016 the OCAMS MapCam camera recorded a star field in Taurus, north of the constellation Orion as part of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft’s post-launch instrument check. Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

NASA’s newest planetary probe, the OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft, is merrily snapping its ‘First-Light’ images following the successful power up and health check of all of the probes science instruments, barely three weeks after a stunning sunset launch from the Florida Space Coast – as it is outbound to asteroid Bennu.

“The spacecraft has passed its initial instrument check with flying colors as it speeds toward a 2018 rendezvous with the asteroid Bennu,” NASA officials reported in a mission update.

All five of the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft science instruments and one of its navigational instruments were powered on, starting last week on September 19.

NASA says they are all fully healthy for the groundbreaking mission whose purpose is to visit the carbon rich asteroid Bennu, snatch samples from the black as coal surface and return them to Earth in 2023 inside a Sample Return Capsule that will soft land by parachute in the Utah desert.

The seven year roundtrip mission to Bennu and back could potentially bring back samples infused with the organic chemicals like amino acids that are the building blocks of life as we know it.

“The data received from the checkout indicate that the spacecraft and its instruments are all healthy.”

The ‘First-Light’ image shown above was taken on Sept. 19, 2016 by the probes OCAMS MapCam camera and recorded a star field in Taurus, north of the constellation Orion along with Orion’s bright red star Betelgeuse.

“MapCam’s first color image is a composite of three of its four color filters, roughly corresponding to blue, green, and red wavelengths. The three images are processed to remove noise, co-registered, and enhanced to emphasize dimmer stars,” researchers said.

The OSIRIS-REx Camera Suite (OCAMS) was the first of the five science instrument to be tested and checlked out perfectly with “no issues.” It was provided by the University of Arizona and is comprised of three cameras which will image and map Bennu in high resolution.

View of science instrument suite and TAGSAM robotic sample return arm on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center.  Probe is slated for Sep. 8, 2016 launch to asteroid Bennu from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
View of science instrument suite and TAGSAM robotic sample return arm on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Probe is slated for Sep. 8, 2016 launch to asteroid Bennu from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

All the other instruments were also powered on and checked out flawlessly – including the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA) which fired its laser, the OSIRIS-REx Visible and Infrared Spectrometer (OVIRS), the OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emissions Spectrometer (OTES), and the student designed Regolith X-ray Imaging Spectrometer (REXIS).

Lastly, the Touch and Go Camera System (TAGCAMS) navigational camera was successfully powered on and tested.

Furthermore, TAGCAMS took a dramatic image of the spacecraft’s Sample Return Capsule (below) – which is designed to bring at least a 60-gram (2.1-ounce) sample of Bennu’s surface soil and rocks back to Earth in 2023 for study by scientists using the world’s most advanced research instruments.

Image of OSIRIS-Rex Sample Return Capsule taken by StowCam instrument on Sept. 22, 2016, two weeks after launch, during initial science instrument checkout at a distance of 3.9 million miles (6.17 million km) away from Earth.  Credit: NASA
Image of OSIRIS-Rex Sample Return Capsule taken by StowCam instrument on Sept. 22, 2016, two weeks after launch, during initial science instrument checkout at a distance of 3.9 million miles (6.17 million km) away from Earth. Credit: NASA

The capsule image was captured by the StowCam portion of TAGCAMS when it was 3.9 million miles (6.17 million km) away from Earth and traveling at a speed of 19 miles per second (30 km/s) around the Sun.

The StowCam image of the Sample Return Capsule shows it “is in perfect condition,” according to the science team.

Overhead view of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft with small white colored sample return canister atop,  inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility high bay at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. Launch is slated for Sep. 8, 2016 to asteroid Bennu from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.   Credit:  Julian Leek
Overhead view of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft with small white colored sample return canister atop, inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility high bay at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Launch is slated for Sep. 8, 2016 to asteroid Bennu from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. Credit: Julian Leek

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft departed Earth with an on time engine ignition of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket under crystal clear skies on Thursday, September 8 at 7:05 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The ULA Atlas V injected OSIRIS-Rex perfectly onto its desired trajectory.

“We got everything just exactly perfect,” said Dante Lauretta, the principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona, at the post launch briefing at the Kennedy Space Center. “We hit all our milestone within seconds of predicts.

United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station carrying NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on the first U.S. mission to sample an asteroid, retrieve at least two ounces of surface material and return it to Earth for study.  Liftoff was at 7:05 p.m. EDT on September 8, 2016 in this remote camera view taken from inside the launch pad perimeter.  Note the newly install crew access arm and white room for astronaut flights atop Atlas starting in early 2018.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station carrying NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on the first U.S. mission to sample an asteroid, retrieve at least two ounces of surface material and return it to Earth for study. Liftoff was at 7:05 p.m. EDT on September 8, 2016 in this remote camera view taken from inside the launch pad perimeter. Note the newly install crew access arm and white room for astronaut flights atop Atlas starting in early 2018. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The space rock measures about the size of a small mountain at about a third of a mile in diameter.

“The primary objective of the OSIRIS-Rex mission is to bring back pristine material from the surface of the carbonaceous asteroid Bennu, OSIRIS-Rex Principal Investigator Dante Lauretta told Universe Today in a prelaunch interview in the KSC cleanroom with the spacecraft as the probe was undergoing final preparations for shipment to the launch pad.

“We are interested in that material because it is a time capsule from the earliest stages of solar system formation.”

“It records the very first material that formed from the earliest stages of solar system formation. And we are really interested in the evolution of carbon during that phase. Particularly the key prebiotic molecules like amino acids, nucleic acids, phosphates and sugars that build up. These are basically the biomolecules for all of life.”

The asteroid is 1,614-foot (500 m) in diameter and crosses Earth’s orbit around the sun every six years.

After a two year flight through space, including an Earth swing by for a gravity assisted speed boost in 2017, OSIRIS-REx will reach Bennu in Fall 2018 to begin about 2 years of study in orbit to determine the physical and chemical properties of the asteroid in extremely high resolution.

Watch my up close launch video captured directly at the pad with the sights and sounds of the fury of blastoff:

Video Caption: ULA Atlas V rocket lifts off on September 8, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station carrying NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft, in this remote camera view taken from inside the launch pad perimeter. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s continuing OSIRIS-REx mission reporting. He reported on the spacecraft and launch from on site at the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Bound for Bennu, OSIRIS-REx Begins Trailblazing Asteroid Sampling Sortie for Life’s Origins – Sunset Launch Gallery

United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station carrying NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on the first U.S. mission to sample an asteroid, retrieve at least two ounces of surface material and return it to Earth for study.  Liftoff was at 7:05 p.m. EDT on September 8, 2016 in this remote camera view taken from inside the launch pad perimeter.  Note the newly install crew access arm and white room for astronaut flights atop Atlas starting in early 2018.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station carrying NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on the first U.S. mission to sample an asteroid, retrieve at least two ounces of surface material and return it to Earth for study. Liftoff was at 7:05 p.m. EDT on September 8, 2016 in this remote camera view taken from inside the launch pad perimeter. Note the newly installed crew access arm and white room for astronaut flights atop Atlas starting in early 2018. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Bound for Bennu, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx robotic explorer began a trailblazing 7 year round trip sampling sortie on Sept. 8 in search of the origin of life with a spectacular sky show – thrilling spectators ringing the Florida Space Coast.

Hordes of space enthusiasts from all across the globe descended on the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral region for the chance of a lifetime to witness a once in a lifetime liftoff to the carbon rich asteroid – which could potentially bring back samples infused with the organic chemicals like amino acids that are the building blocks of life as we know it.

NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security – Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft departed Earth with an on time engine ignition of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket under crystal clear skies on Thursday, September 8 at 7:05 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Blastoff of NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex asteroid sampling spacecraft on September 8, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL as seen from Playalinda Beach.  Credit: Jillian Laudick
Blastoff of NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex asteroid sampling spacecraft on September 8, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL as seen from Playalinda Beach. Credit: Jillian Laudick

Everything went exactly according to plan for the daring mission bolding seeking to gather rocks and soil from Bennu – using an ingenious robotic arm named TAGSAM – and bring at least a 60-gram (2.1-ounce) sample back to Earth in 2023 for study by scientists using the world’s most advanced research instruments.

“We got everything just exactly perfect,” said Dante Lauretta, the principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona, at the post launch briefing at the Kennedy Space Center. “We hit all our milestone within seconds of predicts.

The space rock measures about the size of a small mountain at about a third of a mile in diameter.

And the picture perfect near sunset launch rewarded photographers from near and far with a spectacular series of richly hued photo and video recordings.

So I’ve gathered here a variety of launch imagery from multiple vantage points shot by friends, colleagues and myself – for the enjoyment of readers of Universe Today and Beyond!

Liftoff of NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex asteroid sampling spacecraft on September 8, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.  Credit: Julian Leek
Liftoff of NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex asteroid sampling spacecraft on September 8, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. Credit: Julian Leek

As you’ll see and hear the ULA Atlas V rocket integrated with OSIRIS-Rex on top thundered off the Cape’s pad 41 and shot skyward straight up along an equatorial path into Florida’s sun.

From every vantage point the rocket and its ever expanding vapor trail were visible for some 4 or 5 minutes or more. From my location on the roof of NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) the rocket finally arched over nearly straight above us and the sun produced a magnificent thin and nearly straight shadow of the vapor trail on the ground running out to the Atlantic Ocean towards Africa.

Blastoff of NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex asteroid sampling spacecraft on September 8, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL as seen from Playalinda Beach.  Credit: John Kraus
Blastoff of NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex asteroid sampling spacecraft on September 8, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL as seen from Playalinda Beach. Credit: John Kraus

It was truly an unforgettable sight to behold. And folks at Playalinda Beach, the best public viewing spot just a few miles north of pad 40 had an uninhibited view of the rocket to the base of the pad – while they waded and swam in the oceans waters with waves crashing on shore as the Atlas rocket blasted to space.

OSIRIS-REx separated as planned from the Atlas V rockets liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen fueled second stage rocket to fly free at 8:04 p.m. on Sept. 8 – 55 minutes after launch.

The pair of solar arrays deployed as planned to provide the probes life giving power.

The spacecraft was built by prime contractor Lockheed.

“The spacecraft is healthy and functioning properly,” Richard Kuhns, Lockheed Martin OSIRIS-REx program manager, told me in an interview at the post-launch briefing.

Members of the OSIRIS-REx mission team celebrate the successful spacecraft launch on Sept. 8, 2016 atop ULA Atlas V at the post-launch briefing at the Kennedy Space Center, FL. Principal Investigator Dante Lauretta is 4th from right,  NASA Planetary Science Director Jim Green is center, 5th from left. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Members of the OSIRIS-REx mission team celebrate the successful spacecraft launch on Sept. 8, 2016 atop ULA Atlas V at the post-launch briefing at the Kennedy Space Center, FL. Principal Investigator Dante Lauretta is 4th from right, NASA Planetary Science Director Jim Green is center, 5th from left. Richard Kuhns, Lockheed Martin OSIRIS-REx program manager, 2nd from right. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

“The primary objective of the OSIRIS-Rex mission is to bring back pristine material from the surface of the carbonaceous asteroid Bennu, OSIRIS-Rex Principal Investigator Dante Lauretta told Universe Today in a prelaunch interview in the KSC cleanroom with the spacecraft as the probe was undergoing final preparations for shipment to the launch pad.

“We are interested in that material because it is a time capsule from the earliest stages of solar system formation.”

“It records the very first material that formed from the earliest stages of solar system formation. And we are really interested in the evolution of carbon during that phase. Particularly the key prebiotic molecules like amino acids, nucleic acids, phosphates and sugars that build up. These are basically the biomolecules for all of life.”

The asteroid is 1,614-foot (500 m) in diameter and crosses Earth’s orbit around the sun every six years.

After a two year flight through space, including an Earth swing by for a gravity assisted speed boost in 2017, OSIRIS-REx will reach Bennu in Fall 2018 to begin about 2 years of study in orbit to determine the physical and chemical properties of the asteroid in extremely high resolution.

While orbiting Bennu starting in 2018 it will move in close to explore the asteroid for about two years with its suite of science instruments, scanning in visible and infrared light. After a thorough site selection, it will move carefully towards the surface and extend the 11 foot long TAGSAM robotic arm and snatch pristine soil samples containing organic materials from the surface using the TAGSAM collection dish over just 3 to 5 seconds.

Once a good sample collection is confirmed, the dish will then be placed inside the Earth return canister and be brought back to Earth for study by researchers using all of the most sophisticated science instruments available to humankind.

Using the 11 foot long TAGSAM robotic arm that functions somewhat like a pogo stick, OSIRIS-REx will gather rocks and soil and bring at least a 60-gram (2.1-ounce) sample back to Earth on Sept 24, 2023. It has the capacity to scoop up to about 2 kg or more.

ULA Atlas V rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station carrying NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft on September 8, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, in this remote camera view taken from inside the launch pad perimeter.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
ULA Atlas V rocket lifts off on September 8, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station carrying NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft, in this remote camera view taken from inside the launch pad perimeter. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The two stage ULA Atlas V performed flawlessly and delivered OSIRIS-Rex into a hyperbolic trajectory away from Earth.

The 189 foot tall ULA Atlas V rocket launched in the rare 411 configuration for only the 3rd time on this mission – which is the 65th for the Atlas V.

The Atlas 411 vehicle includes a 4-meter diameter large Payload Fairing (PLF) and one solid rocket booster that augments the first stage. The Atlas booster for this mission is powered by the RD AMROSS RD-180 engine and the Centaur upper stage was powered by the Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10A.

The RD-180 burns RP-1 (Rocket Propellant-1 or highly purified kerosene) and liquid oxygen and delivers 860,200 lb of thrust at sea level.

The strap on solid delivers approximately 348,500 pounds of thrust.

The Centaur delivers 22, 230 lbf of thrust and burns liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen.

The solid was jettisoned at 139 seconds after liftoff.

Launch of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx on September 8, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL as seen from LC-39 Gantry.  Credit: Jen Saxby
Launch of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx on September 8, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL as seen from LC-39 Gantry. Credit: Jen Saxby

This is ULA’s eighth launch in 2016 and the 111th successful launch since the company was formed in December 2006.

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx blasts off to asteroid Bennu on ULA Atlas V rocket prior on Sept. 8, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, as seen from the VAB roof.  Credit: Lane Hermann/SpaceHeadNews
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx blasts off to asteroid Bennu on ULA Atlas V rocket prior on Sept. 8, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, as seen from the VAB roof. Credit: Lane Hermann/SpaceHeadNews

OSIRIS-REx will return the largest sample from space since the American and Soviet Union’s moon landing missions of the 1970s.

Watch these pair of up close videos (from myself and Jeff Seibert) captured directly at the pad with the sights and sounds of the fury of launch:

Video Caption: ULA Atlas V rocket lifts off on September 8, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station carrying NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft, in this remote camera view taken from inside the launch pad perimeter. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Video Caption: Compilation of my launch videos from the ULA Atlas 5 launch in support of the NASA OSIRIS_REx asteroid sample return mission to the asteroid Bennu (#101955). It was launched on September 8th, 2016 from Pad 41 of CCAFS. It is scheduled to land in UTAH with asteroid samples on September 24, 2023. Credit: Jeff Seibert

OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program, following New Horizons to Pluto and Juno to Jupiter, which also launched on Atlas V rockets.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is responsible for overall mission management.

OSIRIS-REx complements NASA’s Asteroid Initiative – including the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) which is a robotic spacecraft mission aimed at capturing a surface boulder from a different near-Earth asteroid and moving it into a stable lunar orbit for eventual up close sample collection by astronauts launched in NASA’s new Orion spacecraft. Orion will launch atop NASA’s new SLS heavy lift booster concurrently under development.

Launch of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx on September 8, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL as seen from VAB roof.  Credit:  J.Sekora/SEKORAPHOTO
Launch of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx on September 8, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL as seen from VAB roof. Credit: J.Sekora/SEKORAPHOTO

Watch for Ken’s continuing OSIRIS-REx mission and launch reporting from on site at the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex asteroid sampling spacecraft streaks to orbit on September 8, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL as seen from Playalinda Beach.  Credit: Jillian Laudick
NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex asteroid sampling spacecraft streaks to orbit on September 8, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL as seen from Playalinda Beach. Credit: Jillian Laudick
Liftoff of NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-Rex asteroid sampling spacecraft on September 8, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Liftoff of NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-Rex asteroid sampling spacecraft on September 8, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station carrying NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on the first U.S. mission to sample an asteroid, retrieve at least two ounces of surface material and return it to Earth for study.  Liftoff was at 7:05 p.m. EDT on September 8, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station carrying NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on the first U.S. mission to sample an asteroid, retrieve at least two ounces of surface material and return it to Earth for study. Liftoff was at 7:05 p.m. EDT on September 8, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
View of science instrument suite and TAGSAM robotic sample return arm on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center.  Probe is slated for Sep. 8, 2016 launch to asteroid Bennu from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
View of science instrument suite and TAGSAM robotic sample return arm on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Probe is slated for Sep. 8, 2016 launch to asteroid Bennu from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

OSIRIS-REx Blasts off on 7 Year Sampling Trek to Asteroid Bennu and Back

Canaveral Air Force Station carrying NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on the first U.S. mission to sample an asteroid, retrieve at least two ounces of surface material and return it to Earth for study.  Liftoff was at 7:05 p.m. EDT on September 8, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station carrying NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on the first U.S. mission to sample an asteroid, retrieve at least two ounces of surface material and return it to Earth for study. Liftoff was at 7:05 p.m. EDT on September 8, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – NASA’s OSIRIS-REx hi tech robotic explorer blasted off this evening in spectacular fashion from the Florida Space Coast on a ground breaking 7 year sampling trek to Asteroid Bennu and back to gather grains of 4.5 billion year old alien sand that could potentially reveal significant answers to the origins of life on Earth.

The Earth departure for NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security – Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft began with an on time engine ignition from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket shortly before a crystal clear sunset this evening, Thursday, September 8 at 7:05 p.m. EDT.

The Atlas V rocket with OSIRIS-Rex bolted on top roared off launch pad 41 and shot straight up into the sun drenched skies of the sunshine state.

The launch wowed hordes of excited spectators who gathered from near and far to witness America’s first mission to gather pristine samples of soil and rock from Bennu’s coal black and carbon rich surface – and eventually return them to Earth for analysis using the most powerful science instruments humankind has invented.

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station carrying NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on the first U.S. mission to sample an asteroid, retrieve at least two ounces of surface material and return it to Earth for study.  Liftoff was at 7:05 p.m. EDT on September 8, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station carrying NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on the first U.S. mission to sample an asteroid, retrieve at least two ounces of surface material and return it to Earth for study. Liftoff was at 7:05 p.m. EDT on September 8, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

“This represents the hopes and dreams and blood, sweat and tears of thousands of people who have been working on this for years,” said Dante Lauretta, the principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona.

“I can’t tell you how thrilled I was this evening, thinking of the people who played a part in this.”

OSIRIS-Rex is on a totally unique 4.5 billion mile roundtrip mission to unlock the mysteries of the formation of our Solar System 4.5 Billion years ago and ourselves as Earth evolved over time.

“Today, we celebrate a huge milestone for this remarkable mission, and for this mission team,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, in a statement.

“We’re very excited about what this mission can tell us about the origin of our solar system, and we celebrate the bigger picture of science that is helping us make discoveries and accomplish milestones that might have been science fiction yesterday, but are science facts today.”

Liftoff of NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-Rex asteroid sampling spacecraft on September 8, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Liftoff of NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-Rex asteroid sampling spacecraft on September 8, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

101955 Bennu is a near Earth asteroid discovered in 1999. It was selected specifically as the sampling because it is a carbon-rich asteroid.

It will take about 2 years for OSIRIS-Rex to reach Bennu in 2018 following a flyby of Earth in 2017.

While orbiting Bennu starting in 2018 it will move in close explore Bennu for about two years with its suite of science instruments. After a thorough site selection, it will move carefully towards the surface and extend the 11 foot long TAGSAM robotic arm and snatch pristine soil samples containing organic materials from the surface using the TAGSAM collection dish. The dish will then be placed inside the Earth return canister and be brought back to Earth for study by researchers using all of the most sophisticated science instruments available to humankind.

The asteroid is 1,614-foot (500 m) in diameter and crosses Earth’s orbit around the sun every six years.

Using the 11 foot long TAGSAM robotic arm that functions somewhat like a pogo stick, OSIRIS-REx will gather rocks and soil and bring at least a 60-gram (2.1-ounce) sample back to Earth in 2023. It has the capacity to scoop up to about 2 kg or more.

Liftoff of NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-Rex asteroid sampling spacecraft on September 8, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.  Credit: Julian Leek
Liftoff of NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-Rex asteroid sampling spacecraft on September 8, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. Credit: Julian Leek

The two stage ULA Atlas V performed flawlessly and delivered OSIRIS-Rex into a hyperbolic trajectory away from Earth.

The 189 foot tall ULA Atlas V rocket launched in the rare 411 configuration for only the 3rd time on this mission – which is the 65th for the Atlas V.

The Atlas 411 vehicle includes a 4-meter diameter large Payload Fairing (PLF) and one solid rocket booster that augments the first stage. The Atlas booster for this mission is powered by the RD AMROSS RD-180 engine and the Centaur upper stage was powered by the Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10A.

The RD-180 burns RP-1 (Rocket Propellant-1 or highly purified kerosene) and liquid oxygen and delivers 860,200 lb of thrust at sea level.

The strap on solid delivers approximately 348,500 pounds of thrust.

The Centaur delivers 22,230 lbf of thrust and burns liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen.

The solid was jettisoned at 139 seconds after liftoff.

This is ULA’s eighth launch in 2016 and the 111th successful launch since the company was formed in December 2006.

Liftoff of NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-Rex asteroid sampling spacecraft on September 8, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.  Credit: Dawn Leek Taylor
Liftoff of NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-Rex asteroid sampling spacecraft on September 8, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. Credit: Dawn Leek Taylor

OSIRIS-REx will return the largest sample from space since the American and Soviet Union’s moon landing missions of the 1970s.

OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program, following New Horizons to Pluto and Juno to Jupiter, which also launched on Atlas V rockets.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is responsible for overall mission management.

OSIRIS-REx complements NASA’s Asteroid Initiative – including the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) which is a robotic spacecraft mission aimed at capturing a surface boulder from a different near-Earth asteroid and moving it into a stable lunar orbit for eventual up close sample collection by astronauts launched in NASA’s new Orion spacecraft. Orion will launch atop NASA’s new SLS heavy lift booster concurrently under development.

Blastoff of NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex asteroid sampling spacecraft on September 8, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL as seen from Playalinda Beach.  Credit: Jillian Laudick
Blastoff of NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex asteroid sampling spacecraft on September 8, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL as seen from Playalinda Beach. Credit: Jillian Laudick

Watch for Ken’s continuing OSIRIS-REx mission and launch reporting from on site at the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft atop a ULA Atlas V rocket prior to launch on Sept. 8, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.  Credit: Lane Hermann/SpaceHeadNews
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft atop a ULA Atlas V rocket prior to launch on Sept. 8, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. Credit: Lane Hermann/SpaceHeadNews
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft is poised for liftoff on a 7 year Journey to asteroid  Bennu and Back atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on Sept. 8, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft is poised for liftoff on a 7 year Journey to asteroid Bennu and Back atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on Sept. 8, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Artist’s conception of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx sample return spacecraft collecting regolith samples at asteroid Bennu. Credits: NASA/Lockheed Martin
Artist’s conception of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx sample return spacecraft collecting regolith samples at asteroid Bennu. Credits: NASA/Lockheed Martin

OSIRIS-Rex Asteroid Mission Seeks to Search for Origin of Life Chemistry

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft is rolled out to pad 41 for launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on Sept. 8, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft is rolled out to pad 40 for launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on Sept. 8, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – OSIRIS-Rex, NASA’s first mission to retrieve and return samples of “pristine materials” from the surface of an asteroid and return them to Earth for high powered analysis by the world’s most advanced science instruments is encapsulated in the nose cone that’s bolted atop its Atlas rocket that has just been rolled out to its Earth departure launch pad.

It’s a groundbreaking mission that could inform us about astrobiology and yield significant clues to help determine the ‘Origin of Life’ on Earth.

NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security – Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft will launch from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on September 8 at 7:05 p.m. EDT.

The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket and OSIRIS-REx spacecraft were moved about 1800 feet from the Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) – where the rocket is assembled- to launch pad 41 starting at about 9 a.m. this morning September 7, 2018.

Watch this Atlas V rocket roll video:

The ULA, NASA and science team conducted a launch readiness review yesterday and gave the GO for launch with all systems passing the stringent rocket and safety review. The even search for signs of any debris from last week’s SpaceX Falcon 9 explosion at the adjacent pad 40 located about a mile south. No signs of any debris or damage were found at pad 40 or the rocket and spacecraft.

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft is rolled out to pad 40 for launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on Sept. 8, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft is rolled out to pad 40 for launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on Sept. 8, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The weather forecast is currently 80% GO for favorable conditions. The only concern is for cumulus clouds.

There are 3 opportunities in a row to launch OSIRIS-Rex.

In case of a delay 24 or 48 hour delay, the forecast drops only slightly to 70% GO.

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft, return capsule and payload fairings inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility high bay at NASA's Kennedy Space Center  is being processed for Sep. 8, 2016 launch to asteroid Bennu from Cape Canaveral, FL.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft, return capsule and payload fairings inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility high bay at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center is being processed for Sep. 8, 2016 launch to asteroid Bennu from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

OSIRIS-REx goal is to fly on a roundtrip seven-year journey of some 4.5 billion miles to the near-Earth asteroid target named Bennu and back.

Watch this mission video:

Video Caption: This video describes the seven-year journey of NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex mission from launch and cruising through space to asteroid Bennu and back. The probe will study Bennu, grab a 2 ounce or more sample from the surface and bring it back to Earth for lab study by researchers. Credit: Lockheed Martin/NASA

101955 Bennu is a near Earth asteroid discovered in 1999. It was selected specifically because it is a carbon-rich asteroid.

While orbiting Bennu starting in 2018 it will move in close and snatch pristine soil samples containing organic materials from the surface using the TAGSAM collection dish, and bring them back to Earth for study by researchers using all of the most sophisticated science instruments available to humankind.

The asteroid is 1,614-foot (500 m) in diameter and crosses Earth’s orbit around the sun every six years.

“The primary objective of the OSIRIS-Rex mission is to bring back pristine material from the surface of the carbonaceous asteroid Bennu, OSIRIS-Rex Principal Investigator Dante Lauretta told Universe Today in the PHSF, as the probe was undergoing final preparation for shipment to the launch pad.

“It records the very first material that formed from the earliest stages of solar system formation. And we are really interested in the evolution of carbon during that phase. Particularly the key prebiotic molecules like amino acids, nucleic acids, phosphates and sugars that build up. These are basically the biomolecules for all of life.”

Artist’s conception of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx sample return spacecraft collecting regolith samples at asteroid Bennu. Credits: NASA/Lockheed Martin
Artist’s conception of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx sample return spacecraft collecting regolith samples at asteroid Bennu. Credits: NASA/Lockheed Martin

OSIRIS-REx will gather rocks and soil and bring at least a 60-gram (2.1-ounce) sample back to Earth in 2023. It has the capacity to scoop up to about 1 kg or more.

The mission will help scientists investigate how planets formed and how life began. It will also improve our understanding of asteroids that could impact Earth by measuring the Yarkovsky effect.
I asked Lauretta to explain in more detail why was Bennu selected as the target to answer fundamental questions related to the origin of life ?

“We selected asteroid Bennu as the target for this mission because we feel it has the best chance of containing those pristine organic compounds from the early stage of solar system formation,” Lauretta told me.

And that information is based on our ground based spectral characterization using telescopes here on Earth. Also, space based assets like the Hubble Space Telescope and the Spitzer Space Telescope.
What is known about the presence of nitrogen containing compounds like amino acids and other elements on Bennu that are the building blocks of life?

“When we look at the compounds that make up these organic materials in these primitive asteroidal materials, we see a lot of carbon,” Lauretta explained.

“But we also see nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen, sulfur and phosphorous. We call those the CHONPS. Those are the six elements we really focus on when we look at astrobiology and prebiotic chemistry and how those got into the origin of life.”

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft was built for NASA by prime contractor Lockheed Martin at their facility near Denver, Colorado and flown to the Kennedy Space Center on May 20.

It will map the chemistry and mineralogy of the primitive carbonaceous asteroid. The team will initially select about 10 target areas for further scrutiny as the sampling target. This will be whittled down to two, a primary and backup, Enos told me.

After analyzing the data returned, the science team then will select a site where the spacecraft’s robotic sampling arm will grab a sample of regolith and rocks. The regolith may record the earliest history of our solar system.

Engineers will command the spacecraft to gradually move on closer to the chosen sample site, and then extend the arm to snatch the pristine samples with the TAGSAM sample return arm.

PI Lauretta will make the final decision on when and which site to grab the sample from.

“As the Principal Investigator for the mission I have responsibility for all of the key decisions during our operations,” Lauretta replied. “So we will be deciding on where we want to target our high resolution investigations for sample site evaluation. And ultimately what is the one location we want to send the spacecraft down to the surface of the asteroid to and collect that sample.”

“And then we have to decide like if we collected enough sample and are we ready to stow it in the sample return capsule. Or are we going to use one of our 2 contingency bottles of gas to go for a second attempt.”

“The primary objective is one successful sampling event. So when we collect 60 grams or 2 ounces of sample then we are done!”

“In the event that we decide to collect more, it will be intermixed with anything we collected on the first attempt.”

The priceless sample will then be stowed in the on board sample return capsule for the long journey back to Earth.

Bennu is an unchanged remnant from the collapse of the solar nebula and birth of our solar system some 4.5 billion years ago, little altered over time.

After a 7 year journey to asteroid Bennu and back, NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex sample return capsule  will land by parachute in the Utah desert on Sept. 24, 2023. Credits: NASA/Lockheed Martin
After a 7 year journey to asteroid Bennu and back, NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex sample return capsule will land by parachute in the Utah desert on Sept. 24, 2023. Credits: NASA/Lockheed Martin

Bennu is a near-Earth asteroid and was selected for the sample return mission because it could hold clues to the origin of the solar system and host organic molecules that may have seeded life on Earth.
OSIRIS-REx will return the largest sample from space since the American and Soviet Union’s moon landing missions of the 1970s.

OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program, following New Horizons to Pluto and Juno to Jupiter, which also launched on Atlas V rockets.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is responsible for overall mission management.

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, enclosed in a payload fairing, is lifted Aug. 29, 2016 at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket that is to lift OSIRIS-REx into space was stacked at SLC-41 so the spacecraft and fairing could be hoisted up and bolted to the rocket. Photo credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis
The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, enclosed in a payload fairing, is lifted Aug. 29, 2016 at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket that is to lift OSIRIS-REx into space was stacked at SLC-41 so the spacecraft and fairing could be hoisted up and bolted to the rocket. Photo credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis

OSIRIS-REx complements NASA’s Asteroid Initiative – including the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) which is a robotic spacecraft mission aimed at capturing a surface boulder from a different near-Earth asteroid and moving it into a stable lunar orbit for eventual up close sample collection by astronauts launched in NASA’s new Orion spacecraft. Orion will launch atop NASA’s new SLS heavy lift booster concurrently under development.

Watch for Ken’s continuing OSIRIS-REx mission and launch reporting from on site at the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Ait Force Station, FL.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

………….

Learn more about OSIRIS-REx, InSight Mars lander, SpaceX missions, Juno at Jupiter, SpaceX CRS-9 rocket launch, ISS, ULA Atlas and Delta rockets, Orbital ATK Cygnus, Boeing, Space Taxis, Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

Sep 7-9: “OSIRIS-REx lainch, SpaceX missions/launches to ISS on CRS-9, Juno at Jupiter, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

Dr Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona, Tucson, and Dr. Ken Kremer, Universe Today point to NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center on Aug. 20, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Dr Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona, Tucson, and Dr. Ken Kremer, Universe Today point to NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center on Aug. 20, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Sampling Probe Assembled at Florida Launch Base for Sep. 8 Blastoff — Cleanroom Photos

NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex asteroid sampling spacecraft inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility high bay at NASA's Kennedy Space Center  is being processed for Sep. 8, 2016 launch to asteroid Bennu from Cape Canaveral, FL.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft, return capsule and payload fairings inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility high bay at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center is being processed for Sep. 8, 2016 launch to asteroid Bennu from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – OSIRIS-Rex, the first American sponsored probe aimed at retrieving “pristine materials” from the surface of an asteroid and returning them to Earth has been fully assembled at its Florida launch base and is ready to blastoff ten days from today on Sep. 8. It’s a groundbreaking mission that could inform us about astrobiology and the ‘Origin of Life.’

“We are interested in that material because it is a time capsule from the earliest stages of solar system formation,” said Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona, Tucson, in an interview with Universe Today beside the completed spacecraft inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility, or PHSF, clean room processing facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

With virtually all prelaunch processing complete, leading members of the science, engineering and launch team including Lauretta met with several members of the media, including Universe Today, inside the clean room for a last and exclusive up-close look and briefing with the one-of-its-kind $800 million Asteroid sampling probe last week.

NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security – Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft will launch from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on September 8 at 7:05 p.m. EDT.

OSIRIS-REx goal is to fly on a roundtrip seven-year journey to the near-Earth asteroid target named Bennu and back. 101955 Bennu is a near Earth asteroid and was selected specifically because it is a carbon-rich asteroid.

While orbiting Bennu it will move in close and snatch pristine soil samples containing organic materials from the surface using the TAGSAM collection dish, and bring them back to Earth for study by researchers using all of the most sophisticated science instruments available to humankind.

“The primary objective of the OSIRIS-Rex mission is to bring back pristine material from the surface of the carbonaceous asteroid Bennu, OSIRIS-Rex Principal Investigator Dante Lauretta told Universe Today in the PHSF, as the probe was undergoing final preparation for shipment to the launch pad.

“It records the very first material that formed from the earliest stages of solar system formation. And we are really interested in the evolution of carbon during that phase. Particularly the key prebiotic molecules like amino acids, nucleic acids, phosphates and sugars that build up. These are basically the biomolecules for all of life.”

Overhead view of NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex asteroid sampling spacecraft with small white colored sample return canister atop,  inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility high bay at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. Launch is slated for Sep. 8, 2016 to asteroid Bennu from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.   Credit:  Julian Leek
Overhead view of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft with small white colored sample return canister atop, inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility high bay at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Launch is slated for Sep. 8, 2016 to asteroid Bennu from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. Credit: Julian Leek

OSIRIS-REx will gather rocks and soil and bring at least a 60-gram (2.1-ounce) sample back to Earth in 2023. It has the capacity to scoop up to about 1 kg or more.

The mission will help scientists investigate how planets formed and how life began. It will also improve our understanding of asteroids that could impact Earth by measuring the Yarkovsky effect.

I asked Lauretta to explain in more detail why was Bennu selected as the target to answer fundamental questions related to the origin of life?

“We selected asteroid Bennu as the target for this mission because we feel it has the best chance of containing those pristine organic compounds from the early stage of solar system formation,” Lauretta told me.

“And that information is based on our ground based spectral characterization using telescopes here on Earth. Also, space based assets like the Hubble Space Telescope and the Spitzer Space Telescope.”

What is known about the presence of nitrogen containing compounds like amino acids and other elements on Bennu that are the building blocks of life?

“When we look at the compounds that make up these organic materials in these primitive asteroidal materials, we see a lot of carbon,” Lauretta explained.

“But we also see nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen, sulfur and phosphorous. We call those the CHONPS. Those are the six elements we really focus on when we look at astrobiology and prebiotic chemistry and how those got into the origin of life.”

View of science instrument suite and TAGSAM robotic sample return arm on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center.  Probe is slated for Sep. 8, 2016 launch to asteroid Bennu from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
View of science instrument suite and TAGSAM robotic sample return arm on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Probe is slated for Sep. 8, 2016 launch to asteroid Bennu from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft was built for NASA by prime contractor Lockheed Martin at their facility near Denver, Colorado and flown to the Kennedy Space Center on May 20.

For the past three months it has undergone final integration, processing and testing inside the PHSF under extremely strict contamination control protocols to prevent contamination by particle, aerosols and most importantly organic residues like amino acids that could confuse researchers seeking to discover those very materials in the regolith samples gathered for return to Earth.

The PHFS clean room was most recently used to process the Orbital ATK Cygnus space station resupply vehicles. It has also processed NASA interplanetary probes such as the Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory and MAVEN Mars orbiter missions.

Side view of NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex asteroid sampling spacecraft showing the High Gain Antenna at left and solar panel, inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility high bay at NASA's Kennedy Space Center.  Probe is being processed for Sep. 8, 2016 launch to asteroid Bennu from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Side view of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft showing the High Gain Antenna at left and solar panel, inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility high bay at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Probe is being processed for Sep. 8, 2016 launch to asteroid Bennu from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The spacecraft will reach Bennu in 2018. Once within three miles (5 km) of the asteroid, the spacecraft will begin at least six months of comprehensive surface mapping of the carbonaceous asteroid, according to Heather Enos, deputy principal investigator, in an interview with Universe Today.

“We will then move the spacecraft to within about a half kilometer or so to collect further data,” Enos elaborated.

It will map the chemistry and mineralogy of the primitive carbonaceous asteroid. The team will initially select about 10 target areas for further scrutiny as the sampling target. This will be whittled down to two, a primary and backup, Enos told me.

After analyzing the data returned, the science team then will select a site where the spacecraft’s robotic sampling arm will grab a sample of regolith and rocks. The regolith may record the earliest history of our solar system.

Engineers will command the spacecraft to gradually move on closer to the chosen sample site, and then extend the arm to snatch the pristine samples the TAGSAM sample return arm.

PI Lauretta will make the final decision on when and which site to grab the sample from.

“As the Principal Investigator for the mission I have responsibility for all of the key decisions during our operations,” Lauretta replied. “So we will be deciding on where we want to target our high resolution investigations for sample site evaluation. And ultimately what is the one location we want to send the spacecraft down to the surface of the asteroid to and collect that sample.”

“And then we have to decide like if we collected enough sample and are we ready to stow it in the sample return capsule. Or are we going to use one of our 2 contingency bottles of gas to go for a second attempt.”

“The primary objective is one successful sampling event. So when we collect 60 grams or 2 ounces of sample then we are done!”

“In the event that we decide to collect more, it will be intermixed with anything we collected on the first attempt.”

The priceless sample will then be stowed in the on board sample return capsule for the long journey back to Earth.

NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex asteroid sampling spacecraft inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility high bay at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. Launch is slated for Sep. 8, 2016 to asteroid Bennu from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.   Credit: Lane Hermann
NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex asteroid sampling spacecraft inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility high bay at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Launch is slated for Sep. 8, 2016 to asteroid Bennu from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. Credit: Lane Hermann

Bennu is an unchanged remnant from the collapse of the solar nebula and birth of our solar system some 4.5 billion years ago, little altered over time.

Bennu is a near-Earth asteroid and was selected for the sample return mission because it could hold clues to the origin of the solar system and host organic molecules that may have seeded life on Earth.

Artist’s conception of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft at Bennu.  Credits: NASA/GSFC
Artist’s conception of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft at Bennu. Credits: NASA/GSFC

OSIRIS-REx will return the largest sample from space since the American and Soviet Union’s moon landing missions of the 1970s.

Watch this USLaunchReport video shot during media visit inside the PHSF on Aug. 20, 2016:

Video caption: Our first introduction to the OSIRIS-REx asteroid bound mission in search of the origins of life, from inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Aug. 20, 2016. Credit: USLaunchReport

OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program, following New Horizons to Pluto and Juno to Jupiter, which also launched on Atlas V rockets.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is responsible for overall mission management.

OSIRIS-REx complements NASA’s Asteroid Initiative – including the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) which is a robotic spacecraft mission aimed at capturing a surface boulder from a different near-Earth asteroid and moving it into a stable lunar orbit for eventual up close sample collection by astronauts launched in NASA’s new Orion spacecraft. Orion will launch atop NASA’s new SLS heavy lift booster concurrently under development.

Watch for Ken’s continuing OSIRIS-REx mission and launch reporting from on site at the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Ait Force Station, FL.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Dr Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona, Tucson, and Dr. Ken Kremer, Universe Today point to NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex asteroid sampling spacecraft inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center on Aug. 20, 2016.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Dr Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona, Tucson, and Dr. Ken Kremer, Universe Today point to NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex asteroid sampling spacecraft inside the Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center on Aug. 20, 2016. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The University of Arizona’s camera suite, OCAMS, sits on a test bench that mimics its arrangement on the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. The three cameras that compose the instrument – MapCam (left), PolyCam and SamCam – are the eyes of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission. They will map the asteroid Bennu, help choose a sample site, and ensure that the sample is correctly stowed on the spacecraft.  Credits: University of Arizona/Symeon Platts
The University of Arizona’s camera suite, OCAMS, sits on a test bench that mimics its arrangement on the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. The three cameras that compose the instrument – MapCam (left), PolyCam and SamCam – are the eyes of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission. They will map the asteroid Bennu, help choose a sample site, and ensure that the sample is correctly stowed on the spacecraft. Credits: University of Arizona/Symeon Platts

Rosetta Orbiter Approved for Extended Mission and Bold Comet Landing

Rosetta will attempt comet landing
This single frame Rosetta navigation camera image of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko was taken on 15 June 2015 from a distance of 207 km from the comet centre. The image has a resolution of 17.7 m/pixel and measures 18.1 km across. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0 [/caption]

Europe’s history making Rosetta cometary spacecraft has been granted a nine month mission extension to plus up its bountiful science discoveries as well as been given the chance to accomplish one final and daring historic challenge, as engineers attempt to boldly go and land the probe on the undulating surface of the comet its currently orbiting.

Officials with the European Space Agency (ESA) gave the “GO” on June 23 saying “The adventure continues” for Rosetta to march forward with mission operations until the end of September 2016.

If all continues to go well “the spacecraft will most likely be landed on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko” said ESA to the unabashed glee of the scientists and engineers responsible for leading Rosetta and reaping the rewards of nearly a year of groundbreaking research since the probe arrived at comet 67P in August 2014.

“This is fantastic news for science,” says Matt Taylor, ESA’s Rosetta Project Scientist, in a statement.

It will take about 3 months for Rosetta to spiral down to the surface.

After a decade long chase of over 6.4 billion kilometers (4 Billion miles), ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft arrived at the pockmarked Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on Aug. 6, 2014 for history’s first ever attempt to orbit a comet for long term study.

Since then, Rosetta deployed the piggybacked Philae landing craft to accomplish history’s first ever touchdown on a comets nucleus on November 12, 2014. It has also orbited the comet for over 10 months of up close observation, coming at times to as close as 8 kilometers. It is equipped with a suite 11 instruments to analyze every facet of the comet’s nature and environment.

ESA Philae lander approaches comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko on 12 November 2014 as imaged from Rosetta orbiter after deployment and during seven hour long approach for 1st ever  touchdown on a comets surface.  Credit:  ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA - Composition by Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer
ESA Philae lander approaches comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko on 12 November 2014 as imaged from Rosetta orbiter after deployment and during seven hour long approach for 1st ever touchdown on a comets surface. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA – Composition by Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer

Currently, Comet 67P is still becoming more and more active as it orbits closer and closer to the sun over the next two months. The mission extension will enable researchers to a far greater period of time to compare the comets activity, physical and chemical properties and evolution ‘before and after’ they arrive at perihelion some six weeks from today.

The pair reach perihelion on August 13, 2015 at a distance of 186 million km from the Sun, between the orbits of Earth and Mars.

“We’ll be able to monitor the decline in the comet’s activity as we move away from the Sun again, and we’ll have the opportunity to fly closer to the comet to continue collecting more unique data. By comparing detailed ‘before and after’ data, we’ll have a much better understanding of how comets evolve during their lifetimes.”

Because the comet is nearly at its peak of outgassing and dust spewing activity, Rosetta must observe the comet from a stand off distance, while still remaining at a close proximity, to avoid damage to the probe and its instruments.

Furthermore, the Philae lander “awoke” earlier this month after entering a sven month hibernation period after successfully compleing some 60 hours of science observations from the surface.

Jets of gas and dust are blasting from the active neck of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in this photo mosaic assembled from four images taken on 26 September 2014 by the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft at a distance of 26.3 kilometers (16 miles) from the center of the comet. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Jets of gas and dust are blasting from the active neck of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in this photo mosaic assembled from four images taken on 26 September 2014 by the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft at a distance of 26.3 kilometers (16 miles) from the center of the comet. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

As the comet again edges away from the sun and becomes less active, the team will attempt to land Rosetta on comet 67P before it runs out of fuel and the energy produced from the huge solar panels is insufficient to continue mission operations.

“This time, as we’re riding along next to the comet, the most logical way to end the mission is to set Rosetta down on the surface,” says Patrick Martin, Rosetta Mission Manager.

“But there is still a lot to do to confirm that this end-of-mission scenario is possible. We’ll first have to see what the status of the spacecraft is after perihelion and how well it is performing close to the comet, and later we will have to try and determine where on the surface we can have a touchdown.”

During the extended mission, the team will use the experience gained in operating Rosetta in the challenging cometary environment to carry out some new and potentially slightly riskier investigations, including flights across the night-side of the comet to observe the plasma, dust, and gas interactions in this region, and to collect dust samples ejected close to the nucleus, says ESA.

Rosetta’s lander Philae has returned the first panoramic image from the surface of a comet. The view as it has been captured by the CIVA-P imaging system, shows a 360º view around the point of final touchdown. The three feet of Philae’s landing gear can be seen in some of the frames.  Superimposed on top of the image is a sketch of the Philae lander in the configuration the lander team currently believe it is in.  The view has been processed to show further details.   Credit: ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA. Post processing: Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo
Rosetta’s lander Philae has returned the first panoramic image from the surface of a comet. The view as it has been captured by the CIVA-P imaging system, shows a 360º view around the point of final touchdown. The three feet of Philae’s landing gear can be seen in some of the frames. Superimposed on top of the image is a sketch of the Philae lander in the configuration the lander team currently believe it is in. The view has been processed to show further details. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA. Post processing: Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

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Learn more about Rosetta, SpaceX, Europa, Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

Jun 25-28: “SpaceX launch, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Antares and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

This single frame Rosetta navigation camera image was taken from a distance of 77.8 km from the centre of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on 22 March 2015. The image has a resolution of 6.6 m/pixel and measures 6 x 6 km. The image is cropped and processed to bring out the details of the comet’s activity. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0
This single frame Rosetta navigation camera image was taken from a distance of 77.8 km from the centre of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on 22 March 2015. The image has a resolution of 6.6 m/pixel and measures 6 x 6 km. The image is cropped and processed to bring out the details of the comet’s activity. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

Are We Martians? Chemist’s New Claim Sparks Debate

Are Earthlings really Martians ?
Did life arise on Mars first and then journey on rocks to our planet and populate Earth billions of years ago? Earth and Mars are compared in size as they look today. NASA’s upcoming MAVEN Mars orbiter is aimed at answering key questions related to the habitability of Mars, its ancient atmosphere and where did all the water go.
Story updated[/caption]

Are Earthlings really Martians?

That’s the controversial theory proposed today (Aug. 29) by respected American chemist Professor Steven Benner during a presentation at the annual Goldschmidt Conference of geochemists being held in Florence, Italy. It’s based on new evidence uncovered by his research team and is sure to spark heated debate on the origin of life question.

Benner said the new scientific evidence “supports the long-debated theory that life on Earth may have started on Mars,” in a statement. Universe Today contacted Benner for further details and enlightenment.

“We have chemistry that (at least at the level of hypothesis) makes RNA prebiotically,” Benner told Universe Today. “AND IF you think that life began with RNA, THEN you place life’s origins on Mars.” Benner said he has experimental data as well.

First- How did ancient Mars life, if it ever even existed, reach Earth?

On rocks violently flung up from the Red Planet’s surface during mammoth collisions with asteroids or comets that then traveled millions of miles (kilometers) across interplanetary space to Earth – melting, heating and exploding violently before the remnants crashed into the solid or liquid surface.

An asteroid impacts ancient Mars and send rocks hurtling to space - some reach Earth
An asteroid impacts ancient Mars and send rocks hurtling to space – some reach Earth. Did they transport Mars life to Earth? Or minerals that could catalyze the origin of life on Earth?

“The evidence seems to be building that we are actually all Martians; that life started on Mars and came to Earth on a rock,” says Benner, of The Westheimer Institute of Science and Technology in Florida. That theory is generally known as panspermia.

To date, about 120 Martian meteorites have been discovered on Earth.

And Benner explained that one needs to distinguish between habitability and the origin of life.

“The distinction is being made between habitability (where can life live) and origins (where might life have originated).”

NASA’s new Curiosity Mars rover was expressly dispatched to search for environmental conditions favorable to life and has already discovered a habitable zone on the Red Planet’s surface rocks barely half a year after touchdown inside Gale Crater.

Furthermore, NASA’s next Mars orbiter- named MAVEN – launches later this year and seeks to determine when Mars lost its atmosphere and water- key questions in the Origin of Life debate.

Curiosity accomplished Historic 1st drilling into Martian rock at John Klein outcrop on Feb 8, 2013 (Sol 182) and discovered a habitable zone, shown in this context mosaic view of the Yellowknife Bay basin taken on Jan. 26 (Sol 169). The robotic arm is pressing down on the surface at John Klein outcrop of veined hydrated minerals – dramatically back dropped with her ultimate destination; Mount Sharp. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ken Kremer-kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo
Curiosity accomplished Historic 1st drilling into Martian rock at John Klein outcrop on Feb 8, 2013 (Sol 182) and discovered a habitable zone, shown in this context mosaic view of the Yellowknife Bay basin taken on Jan. 26 (Sol 169). The robotic arm is pressing down on the surface at John Klein outcrop of veined hydrated minerals – dramatically back dropped with her ultimate destination; Mount Sharp. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ken Kremer-kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo

Of course the proposed chemistry leading to life is exceedingly complex and life has never been created from non-life in the lab.

The key new points here are that Benner believes the origin of life involves “deserts” and oxidized forms of the elements Boron (B) and Molybdenum (Mo), namely “borate and molybdate,” Benner told me.

“Life originated some 4 billion years ago ± 0.5 billon,” Benner stated.

He says that there are two paradoxes which make it difficult for scientists to understand how life could have started on Earth – involving organic tars and water.

Life as we know it is based on organic molecules, the chemistry of carbon and its compounds.

But just discovering the presence of organic compounds is not the equivalent of finding life. Nor is it sufficient for the creation of life.

And simply mixing organic compounds aimlessly in the lab and heating them leads to globs of useless tars, as every organic chemist and lab student knows.

Benner dubs that the ‘tar paradox’.

Although Curiosity has not yet discovered organic molecules on Mars, she is now speeding towards a towering 3 mile (5 km) high Martian mountain known as Mount Sharp.

Curiosity Spies Mount Sharp - her primary destination. Curiosity will ascend mysterious Mount Sharp and investigate the sedimentary layers searching for clues to the history and habitability of the Red Planet over billions of years.  This mosaic was assembled from over 3 dozen Mastcam camera images taken on Sol 352 (Aug 2, 2013. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/ Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer
Curiosity Spies Mount Sharp – her primary destination
Curiosity will ascend mysterious Mount Sharp and investigate the sedimentary layers searching for clues to the history and habitability of the Red Planet over billions of years. This mosaic was assembled from over 3 dozen Mastcam camera images taken on Sol 352 (Aug 2, 2013. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/ Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer-kenkremer.com

Upon arrival sometime next spring or summer, scientists will target the state of the art robot to investigate the lower sedimentary layers of Mount Sharp in search of clues to habitability and preserved organics that could shed light on the origin of life question and the presence of borates and molybdates.

It’s clear that many different catalysts were required for the origin of life. How much and their identity is a big part of Benner’s research focus.

“Certain elements seem able to control the propensity of organic materials to turn into tar, particularly boron and molybdenum, so we believe that minerals containing both were fundamental to life first starting,” says Benner in a statement. “Analysis of a Martian meteorite recently showed that there was boron on Mars; we now believe that the oxidized form of molybdenum was there too.”

The second paradox relates to water. He says that there was too much water covering the early Earth’s surface, thereby causing a struggle for life to survive. Not exactly the conventional wisdom.

“Not only would this have prevented sufficient concentrations of boron forming – it’s currently only found in very dry places like Death Valley – but water is corrosive to RNA, which scientists believe was the first genetic molecule to appear. Although there was water on Mars, it covered much smaller areas than on early Earth.”

Parts of ancient Mars were covered by oceans, lakes and streams of liquid water in this artists concept, unlike the arid and bone dry Martian surface of today. Subsurface water ice is what remains of Martian water.
Parts of ancient Mars were covered by oceans, lakes and streams of liquid water in this artists concept, unlike the arid and bone dry Martian surface of today. Subsurface water ice is what remains of Martian water.

I asked Benner to add some context on the beneficial effects of deserts and oxidized boron and molybdenum.

“We have chemistry that (at least at the level of hypothesis) makes RNA prebiotically,” Benner explained to Universe Today.

“We require mineral species like borate (to capture organic species before they devolve to tar), molybdate (to arrange that material to give ribose), and deserts (to dry things out, to avoid the water problem).”

“Various geologists will not let us have these [borates and molybdates] on early Earth, but they will let us have them on Mars.”

“So IF you believe what the geologists are telling you about the structure of early Earth, AND you think that you need our chemistry to get RNA, AND IF you think that life began with RNA, THEN you place life’s origins on Mars,” Benner elaborated.

“The assembly of RNA building blocks is thermodynamically disfavored in water. We want a desert to get rid of the water intermittently.”

I asked Benner whether his lab has run experiments in support of his hypothesis and how much borate and molybdate are required.

“Yes, we have run many lab experiments. The borate is stoichiometric [meaning roughly equivalent to organics on a molar basis]; The molybdate is catalytic,” Benner responded.

“And borate has now been found in meteorites from Mars, that was reported about three months ago.

At his talk, Benner outlined some of the chemical reactions involved.

Although some scientists have invoked water, minerals and organics brought to ancient Earth by comets as a potential pathway to the origin of life, Benner thinks differently about the role of comets.

“Not comets, because comets do not have deserts, borate and molybdate,” Benner told Universe Today.

The solar panels on the MAVEN spacecraft are deployed as part of environmental testing procedures at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Littleton, Colorado, before shipment to Florida 0on Aug. 2 and blastoff for Mars on Nov. 18, 213. Credit: Lockheed Martin
MAVEN is NASA’s next Mars orbiter and seeks to determine when Mars lost its atmosphere and water- key questions in the Origin of Life debate. MAVEN is slated to blastoff for Mars on Nov. 18, 2013. It is shown here with solar panels deployed as part of environmental testing procedures at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Waterton, Colorado, before shipment to Florida in early August. Credit: Lockheed Martin

Benner has developed a logic tree outlining his proposal that life on Earth may have started on Mars.

“It explains how you get to the conclusion that life originated on Mars. As you can see from the tree, you can escape that conclusion by diverging from the logic path.”

Finally, Benner is not one who blindly accepts controversial proposals himself.

He was an early skeptic of the claims concerning arsenic based life announced a few years back at a NASA sponsored press conference, and also of the claims of Mars life discovered in the famous Mars meteorite known as ALH 84001.

“I am afraid that what we thought were fossils in ALH 84001 are not.”

The debate on whether Earthlings are really Martians will continue as science research progresses and until definitive proof is discovered and accepted by a consensus of the science community of Earthlings – whatever our origin.

On Nov. 18, NASA will launch its next mission to Mars – the MAVEN orbiter. Its aimed at studying the upper Martian atmosphere for the first time.

“MAVENS’s goal is determining the composition of the ancient Martian atmosphere and when it was lost, where did all the water go and how and when was it lost,” said Bruce Jakosky to Universe Today at a MAVEN conference at the University of Colorado- Boulder. Jakosky, of CU-Boulder, is the MAVEN Principal Investigator.

MAVEN will shed light on the habitability of Mars billions of years ago and provide insight on the origin of life questions and chemistry raised by Benner and others.

Ken Kremer

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Learn more about Mars, the Origin of Life, LADEE, Cygnus, Antares, MAVEN, Orion, Mars rovers and more at Ken’s upcoming presentations

Sep 5/6/16/17: “LADEE Lunar & Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA, 8 PM

Oct 3: “Curiosity, MAVEN and the Search for Life on Mars – (3-D)”, STAR Astronomy Club, Brookdale Community College & Monmouth Museum, Lincroft, NJ, 8 PM

Oct 9: “LADEE Lunar & Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Princeton University, Amateur Astronomers Assoc of Princeton (AAAP), Princeton, NJ, 8 PM

NASA Selects OSIRIS-REx as first US Asteroid Sampling Mission

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NASA officials announced the selection of OSIRIS-Rex as the next US robotic planetary science mission and which will pave the way for an eventual manned mission to an asteroid. OSIRIS-Rex will be the first US mission to collect and return samples of an asteroid to Earth.

OSIRIS-Rex is planned for launch to the near Earth asteroid designated as 1999 RQ36 in September 2016 and will return up to four pounds of prisitine asteroidal material to Earth in 2023. The precious sample would land arrive at Utah’s Test and Training Range in a sample return canister similar to the one for the Stardust spacecraft.

“We are absolutely delighted to announce the selection of OSIRIS-Rex,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, at a briefing for reporters.

“This asteroid is a time capsule from the birth of our solar system and ushers in a new era of planetary exploration. The knowledge from the mission also will help us to develop methods to better track the orbits of asteroids.”

OSIRIS-Rex is the acronym for Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer.

The asteroid is an unchanged remnant from the collapse of the solar nebula and birth of our solar system some 4.5 billion years ago, little altered over time.

Asteroid 1999 RQ36 is likely rich in carbon, the key constituent of organic molecules and one of the building blocks of life. Organic molecules have been found in meteorite and comet samples, which indicates that some of life’s ingredients can be created in space.
The science team will determine if organics also are present on RQ36.

Osiris-REx collects pristine asteroid regolith

Asteroids like 1999 RQ36 may have seeded Earth billions of years ago with organic molecules that are the building blocks of life and perhaps eventually led to living organisms. Samples from the asteroids may help scientists unlock the mysteries of the origin of life on Earth.

Three years after launch, OSIRIS-Rex would arrive at Asteroid 1999 RQ36 in 2020 and study the 1900 foot wide space rock in detail for at least six months of comprehensive surface examinations with four science instruments.

The science team will also use the time – perhaps up to one year – to look for the optimal place to touch the surface and collect a sample of at least two ounces of surface material with a robotic arm.

“We are bringing back what we believe is the type of material that led to the building blocks of life, that led to us,” said Michael Drake, principal investigator of the OSIRIS-REx mission from the University of Arizona.

OSIRIS-REx releases a sample canister - similar to Stardust - for re-entry back into Earth's atmosphere and landing by parachute in Utah.
Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona
“We’re going for something rich in organics, which might have had something to do with life getting started.”

“OSIRIS-REx will explore our past and help determine our destiny,” said Drake. “It will return samples of pristine organic material that scientists think might have seeded the sterile early Earth with the building blocks that led to life. Such samples do not currently exist on Earth. OSIRIS-REx will also provide the knowledge that will guide humanity in deflecting any future asteroid that could collide with Earth, allowing humanity to avoid the fate of the dinosaurs.”

The small asteroid RQ36 has also attracted interest because there is a 1-in-1,800 chance of impacting the Earth in the year 2182.

Drake added that the team will carefully practice the sample collection before conducting the actual retrieval of a surface material of a mixture of soil and rocks with a pogo stick like device. He said it would be more like “kissing” the surface than a actual landing of the spacecraft.

The sampling device at the end of the robot arm looks like a car air filter. It will haul in the pristine regolith into the sample acquisition mechanism within 5 seconds in a “touch and go” maneuver as the spacecraft slowly descends at 0.1 m/sec. Up to 3 attempts are possible.

Check the sampling sequence video below.

Because the samples are expected to possess organic molecules, they will be subject to stringent planetary protection protocols. The OSIRIS-REx sample capsule will be stored for analysis at a special curation facility at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. By returning the asteroid samples to Earth, they can be studied by the most advanced science equipment available.

“I think we’ll get some much needed info on the composition and physical properties of asteroid surface material. I’m particularly interested in water content for future resource use. The photos should be spectacular,” said former Astronaut Tom Jones in exclusive comments for Universe Today.

“This is a critical step in meeting the objectives outlined by President Obama to extend our reach beyond low-Earth orbit and explore into deep space,” said NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden in a statement. “It’s robotic missions like these that will pave the way for future human space missions to an asteroid and other deep space destinations.”

When the mission is complete, the spacecraft is expected to have sufficient fuel reserves to be retargeted to a new destination according to Michael Drake.

OSIRIS-Rex is expected to cost $800 million according to Jim Green, minus the cost of the launch vehicle which he said has not yet been determined. This is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program following the Pluto-Charon mission and the Juno Jupiter Orbiter.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver is building the spacecraft. Overall mission management will be provided by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

OSIRIS-REx logo