NASA launches probe to return samples from Asteroid Bennu

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September 11, 2016

David Dickinson, Sky and Telescope

The dusk skies lit up over Cape Canaveral on September 8th, as NASA’s ambitious Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security and Regolith Explorer (Osiris-REX) mission started its long round trip journey. Its mission: meet up and explore Earth-crossing Apollo asteroid 101955 Bennu and bring samples of it back to the Earth. …

Osiris-REX is launched from Cape Canaveral. / NASA

Osiris-REX is launched from Cape Canaveral. / NASA

Osiris-REX is the first U.S. interplanetary launch since the MAVEN mission to Mars in 2013. NASA’s next mission to another world is Mars InSight in 2018. …

Osiris-REX is the third mission in the New Frontiers program, after Juno and New Horizons. The objective is to return a sample of at least 60 grams of Bennu to Earth for further study, though researchers hope to collect as much as 2 kilograms. This sample will represent the largest sample return since the Apollo missions to the Moon. NASA plans to share the bounty on return, with 4% of the material going to the Canadian Space Agency (a partner on the mission) and 0.5% going to the Japanese Space Agency (in return for sharing material returned by Hayabusa). 75% of the sample return is allocated for future study.

“We have multiple lines of evidence to show that Bennu contains remnants of the formation of the solar system,” says project scientist Jason Dworkin. “The minerals, compounds, and isotopes in Bennu recorded the environment where the planets formed and should give us information about materials available for the origin of life on Earth. These will be studied with instruments in the best labs around the planet.”

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