NASA to launch asteroid mission in 2016

asteroid mission
Earlier this week, NASA announced plans to use the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle as the basis for a new spacecraft designed for deep space travel called the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV). The MPCV is expected to be the primary spacecraft for NASA’s manned mission to a nearby asteroid in 2020, as set forth by President Obama last year. To prepare for that mission, NASA plans to launch a new science mission to an asteroid in 2016. The mission will be called Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-REx.

It will take OSIRIS-REx four years to travel to 1999 RQ36, a near-Earth asteroid. Once within three miles of the asteroid, the spacecraft will perform a comprehensive surface mapping over a period of six months. That mapping will allow for a location to be selected which OSIRIS-REx will approach to put the site within range of the spacecraft’s robotic arm which will be extended to collect two ounces of material. That material will be stored in a capsule, similar to the one used by the Stardust spacecraft to collect comet particles. The asteroid material will be returned to Earth and is expected to arrive in 2023 at which time it will be analyzed for the presence of organic molecules, key ingredients in creating life, which have been found in previous meteorite and comet samples.

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