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

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

The post Bound for Bennu, OSIRIS-REx Begins Trailblazing Asteroid Sampling Sortie for Life’s Origins – Sunset Launch Gallery appeared first on Universe Today.

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

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 of 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.

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.”

The post OSIRIS-REx Blasts off on 7 Year Sampling Trek to Asteroid Bennu and Back appeared first on Universe Today.

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

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:

https://youtu.be/toCgd2L2urw

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.

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.

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:

https://youtu.be/0b8jEIdOMCg

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.”

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.

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.

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

The post OSIRIS-Rex Asteroid Mission Seeks to Search for Origin of Life Chemistry appeared first on Universe Today.

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

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.

OSIRIS-REx goal is to fly on a roundtrip seven-year journey to the near-Earth asteroid target named Bennu and back. 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.”

OSIRIS-REx will gather rocks and soil and bring at least a 60-gram (2.1-ounce) sample back to Earth in 2023. It could collect up to about 2 kg or so.

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.

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.

The spacecraft will reach Bennu in 2018. Once within three miles 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 with TAGSAM.

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.

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.

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.

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

Ken Kremer

The post NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex Asteroid Sampling Probe Assembled at Florida Launch Base for Sep. 8 Blastoff — Cleanroom Photos appeared first on Universe Today.

America’s First Asteroid Sampling Mission OSIRIS-REx Arrives at Florida Launch Base

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

America’s first ever mission ever designed to retrieve samples from the surface of an asteroid and return them to Earth – OSIRIS-Rex – has arrived at its Florida launch base for processing to get ready for blastoff barely three and one half months from today.

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

OSIRIS-REx was flown to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center from prime contractor Lockheed Martin’s facility near Denver, Colorado via Buckley Air Force Base. It arrived safely inside its shipping container on Friday, May 20 aboard an Air Force C-17 at the Shuttle Landing Facility.

It was soon offloaded and transported to Kennedy’s Payloads Hazardous Servicing Facility, or PHSF. OSIRIS-REx came out of the shipping container today, Saturday, May 21.

A busy first week of processing starts Monday.

NASA officials say it will go onto a rotation fixture on Monday, May 23, have a spin test May 24-25. It then will be hoisted onto a dolly May 26 for other upcoming activities. A partial solar array deployment test is scheduled on May 31.

OSIRIS-REx will fly on a seven-year journey to the near-Earth asteroid target named Bennu and back. Bennu is a carbon-rich asteroid.

The spacecraft will reach Bennu in 2018. OSIRIS-REx will gather rocks and soil and bring at least a 60-gram (2.1-ounce) sample back to Earth in 2023 for study by researchers here with all the most sophisticated science instruments available.

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.

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.

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

Ken Kremer

The post America’s First Asteroid Sampling Mission OSIRIS-REx Arrives at Florida Launch Base appeared first on Universe Today.

Send Your Sweetie An Out-Of-This-World Valentine

Mars has a lot of heart (s)! Send one to your Valentine Credit: NASA

Still looking for the right card for your sweetheart this Valentine’s Day? Why not do it in cosmic proportion by getting NASA on your side?  The tender-hearted folks at agency may have just what you’re looking for.

The staff at the New Horizons mission headquarters offers two valentines this season that play off Pluto’s heart-shaped, icy plain Tombaugh Regio. While the temperature there hovers around 400 below,  you’re guaranteed a 98.6° smile when your sweetie opens the card and sees your love reflected in glittering nitrogen ice.

Pluto not your thing? Select from 12 different Mars e-card love greetings at this NASA site and blow your partner away in a Martian dust devil of love. Many of the heart-shaped features depicted on the cards are genuine features and include collapse pits, craters and mesas.

Even the asteroids send their saucy wishes. Check out the delightful series of valentines from the upcoming OSIRIS-Rex sample return mission to 101955 Bennu, slated to launch in September this year and return a sample of the carbonaceous asteroid to Earth in 2023. If you go this route, I’d complement the card with a meal heavy on edible carbonaceous material at your partner’s favorite restaurant.

Happy Valentine’s Day! Spread the love for a happier planet.

The post Send Your Sweetie An Out-Of-This-World Valentine appeared first on Universe Today.

Space Stories to Watch in 2016

An artist's conception of Juno in orbit around Jupiter. image credit: NASA

2015 was an amazing year in space, as worlds such as Pluto and Ceres snapped into sharp focus. 2015 also underlined the mantra that ‘space in hard,’ as SpaceX rode the roller coaster from launch failure, to a dramatic return to flight in December, complete with a nighttime landing of its stage 1 Falcon 9 rocket back at Cape Canaveral. So, what’s in store for 2016? How about a mission to Mars, Jupiter, and – just maybe — a groundbreaking discovery in astrophysics? Here’s our drill-down of space stories to watch in 2016:

Juno Arrives at Jupiter

After several years of space travel, NASA’s Juno mission will enter orbit around Jupiter next year. Launched from Cape Canaveral on August 5th, 2011, Juno will only be the second spacecraft to enter orbit around Jupiter, and the first mission to the outer solar system that won’t utilize nuclear power. Instead, Juno is equipped with three enormous bus-sized solar panels. Juno will study the magnetosphere, magnetic field and gravitational environment of Jove in its wide-ranging path. Expect Juno to enter orbit around Jupiter on July 4th, 2016.

Gravitational Waves Discovered?

Could astronomers directly detect gravitational waves in the coming year… just over a century after Einstein’s special theory of relativity predicted them? It’s a very real possibility, as the Advanced LIGO project went online in late 2015. Sporting ten times the sensitivity of the original LIGO project, Advanced LIGO ‘should’ detect gravitational waves generated by black hole and pulsar mergers and extra-galactic supernovae. If it doesn’t, something is seriously wrong with our theories of cosmology. This could be the physics story of 2016 along the lines of the CERN Higgs-Boson discovery, if direct detection is accomplished.

Heavy Rockets Take Flight

Both China and SpaceX may debut their heavy lift rockets in 2016. China is set to perform its inaugural launch of its Long March 5 rocket from Wenchang Space Center sometime in the next year. Meanwhile, SpaceX is set to launch its Falcon Heavy lift rocket from the Kennedy Space Center this coming April. Yeah, I know: we’ve been chasing this one as a ‘space story to watch’ for a couple years now… but 2016 looks like the year that the Falcon Heavy will indeed break the surly bonds. And NASA’s SLS heavy lifter? Expect the first uncrewed flight in the 2018 time frame, with astronauts riding atop the rocket beyond low Earth orbit three years beyond that.

Dream Chaser Launch

The Sierra Nevada Corporation plans to conduct the first orbital launch of their Dream Chaser spacecraft in 2016. A space plane looking like a miniature space shuttle, Dream Chaser will launch vertically atop an Atlas V rocket, then land on a runway like an aircraft. The Dream Chaser can carry a crew of seven. Expect to see the first historic launch of Dream Chaser from the Kennedy Space Center on November 1st, 2016.

A Mission to Mars

NASA’s InSight Lander may have been grounded earlier this month, but the European Space Agency still plans its ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter mission to Mars in the Spring of 2016, along with the joint ESA/Roscomos Schiaparelli technology demonstrator lander. This lander is set to test tech needed for the 2018 ExoMars rover. Hey, this could be Russia’s first successful landing on the Red Planet after seven tries!

Rosetta ‘Crashes’ into a Comet

Rosetta’s mission orbiting a comet will come to a dramatic end in 2016, with a ‘controlled crash’ into comet 67/P Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission arrived at Comet 67/P C-G on August 6th, 2014, gave us some amazing insights into the bizarro world of cometary life, and deposited the Philae lander on the surface, to boot. Expect Rosetta to come to rest on the surface of the comet on September 30th, 2016.

Cassini’s Final Year at Saturn

In orbit around Saturn for over a decade, 2016 is the last full year of operations for Cassini, which will plunge into the atmosphere of Saturn in 2017. The only mission to ever orbit Saturn, Cassini has given us some stunning views of the planet, its system of rings and moons, and delivered the European Space Agency’s Huygens lander to the surface of Titan on January 14th, 2005. As the end of Cassini’s life nears, expect engineers to perform some bold close flybys of Saturn’s moons, and thread the ring system of Saturn for some final spectacular closeups.

A Exoplanet Bonanza 

Amid the usual press releases of the ‘hottest, fastest, weirdest,’ could we find something truly groundbreaking in 2016? Maybe exomoons, better images through direct detection, etc? On Earth, systems such as the Gemini Planet Imager are giving us progressively better direct views of exoplanets, and missions such as the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) are set to carry on Kepler’s legacy in 2018. Small bet: the current tally of exoplanets sits at 2,041 at the close of 2015; by 2020, that number will have grown to 10,000.

A Serious SETI Search

SETI got a boost in 2015 with the Breakthrough Listen initiative, which gets underway in earnest in 2016. Breakthrough Listen is a 10 year, $100 million dollar initiative funded under Yuri Milner’s Breakthrough Initiatives. Combining search time split between the Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia, and the Parkes Telescope in Australia, expect Breakthrough Listen to begin combing the 1-to-10 GHz ‘quiet zone’ of the radio spectrum over a greater swath of sky than ever before starting in late 2016.

Iridium Satellites: the NEXT Generation

The new generation of Iridium mobile phone satellites, known as IridiumNEXT, begins deployment in 2016, with the first launch atop a Dnepr rocket from Dombarosky, Russia sometime in April 2016. Built by Iridium Communications Incorporated, this project to field a new and more robust constellation of communications satellites will most likely—like the first deployment of Iridium satellites by Motorola—take several years. The deorbit phase-out of the old system of 66 satellites will likewise take time. Unfortunately for backyard sat-spotters, the new generation of Iridium satellites probably won’t flare as brilliantly as their predecessors.

The International Space Station Heads into its Extended Life

Way back when construction was finished in 2009, word was the ISS would eventually be deorbited in 2016… but it looks like NASA will try to keep the station going now well into the 2020s. An unexpected increase in the FY2016 budget for NASA sees the ISS funded to the tune of five billion dollars, including money for SpaceX and Boeing to continue development on a crewed spacecraft as an alternative to the Russian Soyuz for access to the station. Astronaut Scott Kelly will also complete his ‘year in space’ on March 2nd, 2016, breaking the US human spaceflight duration record in the process.

OSIRIS REx Launches

NASA’s ambitious asteroid sample return mission also launches in 2016: The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource, Identification, Security, and Regolith EXplorer known as OSIRIS REx launches from Cape Canaveral in September 2016. The mission will rendezvous with asteroid 101955 Bennu in 2018. If all goes well, expect the sample return mission to arrive back in the vicinity of the Earth in September 2019.

A Solar Sail Launch in 2016?

Remember the excitement surrounding LightSail-A in early 2015? The full-fledged LightSail-1 demonstrator fielded by the Planetary Society is set to launch in April on the inaugural first flight of the Falcon 9 Heavy. Unlike LightSail-A, which operated briefly in low-Earth orbit before reentering the Earth’s atmosphere, LightSail-1 will demonstrate true solar wind pressure sailing in a higher 500 mile orbit.

One more thing. A semi-depressing milestone comes to pass at the end of 2016, as we head towards a span of time where no astronauts have launched from U.S. soil equal to the gap between Apollo (The Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in 1976) and the start of the U.S. Space Shuttle program with STS-1 in 1981. True, we’ve kept the human occupation of space ongoing aboard the International Space Station, but it looks like this record may be broken with room to spare — until SpaceX launches crew in late 2017.

See you in 2016!

The post Space Stories to Watch in 2016 appeared first on Universe Today.

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Sampling Probe Completes Instrument Install/Assembly, Enters ‘Test Drive’ Phase

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Weekly Space Hangout – April 24, 2015: Bas Lansdorp, CEO of Mars One

Host: Fraser Cain (@fcain) Special Guest: Bas Lansdorp, CEO of Mars One Guests: Morgan Rehnberg (cosmicchatter.org / @MorganRehnberg ) Brian Koberlein (@briankoberlein) Alessondra Springmann (@sondy) Dave Dickinson (@astroguyz / www.astroguyz.com) This Week’s Stories: 25 years of Hubble Rosetta spots a jet form on 67P Japan to attempt lunar landing in 2018 (maybe!) Dark matter interactions […]