An unmanned NASA exploratory craft has been lifted into space by a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, beginning a seven-year mission to snatch an asteroid soil sample and deliver it to Earth for analysis.
Liftoff came at 7:05 p.m. EDT on Sept. 8 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The Atlas V’s booster engines cut off and the rocket’s upper stage took over several minutes after lift off.
“Centaur’s now orbital,” ULA ascent commentator Marty Malinowski advised over NASA TV video images roughly 13 minutes following launch.
The Lockheed Martin-built exploratory craft is dubbed the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer and totes the similarly overcooked acronym OSIRIS-Rex, It should reach its designated orbit in 34 days and catch up with the asteroid Bennu in 2018.
“This mission exemplifies our nation’s quest to boldly go and study our solar system and beyond to better understand the universe and our place in it,” said Geoff Yoder, NASA’s acting associate administrator at its Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “NASA science is the greatest engine of scientific discovery on the planet, and OSIRIS-REx embodies our directorate’s goal to innovate, explore, discover and inspire.”
Fully fueled, the spacecraft weights nearly 4,700 pounds. It will survey the surface of Bennu to locate promising sample sites and then collect up to 70 ounces of surface material with a robotic arm.
The OSIRIS-Rex is scheduled to return the sample to Earth in 2023, when it will deploy a detachable capsule to make the delivery.