NASA going to asteroid, bringing back samples

May 25, 2011
This NASA image shows an artist's impression of an asteroid belt in orbit around a star. The US space agency on Wednesday announced plans to send the first unmanned spacecraft to an asteroid to collect samples and return them to Earth for further study.

(PhysOrg.com) -- NASA is going to send a spacecraft to an asteroid and bring back samples to Earth.

NASA will launch a spacecraft to an asteroid in 2016 and use a robotic arm to pluck samples that could better explain our solar system's formation and how life began. The mission, called Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-REx, will be the first U.S. mission to carry samples from an asteroid back to Earth.

"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. "It’s robotic missions like these that will pave the way for future human space missions to an asteroid and other deep space destinations."

NASA selected OSIRIS-REx after reviewing three concept study reports for new scientific missions, which also included a sample return mission from the far side of the Moon and a mission to the surface of Venus.

Asteroids are leftovers formed from the cloud of gas and dust -- the solar nebula -- that collapsed to form our sun and the planets about 4.5 billion years ago. As such, they contain the original material from the solar nebula, which can tell us about the conditions of our solar system's birth.

After traveling four years, OSIRIS-REx will approach the primitive, near Earth asteroid designated 1999 RQ36 in 2020. Once within three miles of the asteroid, the spacecraft will begin six months of comprehensive surface mapping. The science team then will pick a location from where the spacecraft's arm will take a sample. The spacecraft gradually will move closer to the site, and the arm will extend to collect more than two ounces of material for return to Earth in 2023. The mission, excluding the launch vehicle, is expected to cost approximately $800 million.

The sample will be stored in a capsule that will land at Utah's Test and Training Range in 2023. The capsule's design will be similar to that used by NASA's Stardust spacecraft, which returned the world's first comet particles from comet Wild 2 in 2006. The OSIRIS-REx sample capsule will be taken to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. The material will be removed and delivered to a dedicated research facility following stringent planetary protection protocol. Precise analysis will be performed that cannot be duplicated by spacecraft-based instruments.

Conceptual image of OSIRIS-REx. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

RQ36 is approximately 1,900 feet in diameter or roughly the size of five football fields. The asteroid, little altered over time, is likely to represent a snapshot of our solar system's infancy. The asteroid also is likely rich in carbon, a key element in the organic molecules necessary for life. Organic molecules have been found in meteorite and comet samples, indicating some of life's ingredients can be created in space. Scientists want to see if they also are present on RQ36.

"This asteroid is a time capsule from the birth of our solar system and ushers in a new era of planetary exploration," said Jim Green, director, NASA's Planetary Science Division in Washington. "The knowledge from the mission also will help us to develop methods to better track the orbits of asteroids."

The mission will accurately measure the "Yarkovsky effect" for the first time. The effect is a small push caused by the sun on an asteroid, as it absorbs sunlight and re-emits that energy as heat. The small push adds up over time, but it is uneven due to an asteroid's shape, wobble, surface composition and rotation. For scientists to predict an Earth-approaching asteroid's path, they must understand how the effect will change its orbit. OSIRIS-REx will help refine RQ36's orbit to ascertain its trajectory and devise future strategies to mitigate possible Earth impacts from celestial objects.

Michael Drake of the University of Arizona in Tucson is the mission's principal investigator. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., will provide overall mission management, systems engineering, and safety and mission assurance. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver will build the spacecraft. The OSIRIS-REx payload includes instruments from the University of Arizona, Goddard, Arizona State University in Tempe and the Canadian Space Agency. NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., the Langley Research Center in Hampton Va., and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., also are involved. The science team is composed of numerous researchers from universities, private and government agencies.

This is the third mission in NASA's New Frontiers Program. The first, New Horizons, was launched in 2006. It will fly by the Pluto-Charon system in July 2015, then target another Kuiper Belt object for study. The second mission, Juno, will launch in August to become the first spacecraft to orbit Jupiter from pole to pole and study the giant planet's atmosphere and interior. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages New Frontiers for the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

The mission will cost about $1 billion.

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User comments : 29

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spectator
1.3 / 5 (18) May 25, 2011
Gonna be disappointed if it's a monolithic rock and they spent $800 million plus launch to go sneeze at it with a nitrogen canister and a collection cup...

"yeah, yeah, we're almost there..."

"Oh, hell, it's a solid rock...just...one...solid rock...we're screwed."

$800 million to collect a ROCK SAMPLE, from an object which may or may not be an impenatrable monolithic rock.

No laser, no drill or brush...

A damn nitrogen canister.

Are you out of your mind you morons?

FOOLS.

Our government has lost its mind and gone to shit.
that_guy
1.2 / 5 (6) May 25, 2011
The mental image of the craft getting thiiiis close to the asteroid and picking off a rock are pretty humorous. But I have a question. Why not land on the asteroid? It seems like it would be like an astronaut trying to pick something off the space shuttle without putting his feet on it in near 0 g, very awkward.

If you're going through all that effort to dance around the asteroid, why not just set down for a second? I want more info to find out what their line of thought is.
spectator
1.4 / 5 (18) May 25, 2011
This is completely ungodly STUPID to do a mission this expensive to a ROCK in space when we already know the mineralogy of thousands of carbonaceous chondrites, particularly when our government is already running such a high deficit that it's a joke. While $800 million plus launch is probably around a billion or so, that is a tenth of a percent of the deficit.

In my mind, that's a pretty big chunk of change which should have been cut before anyone even considered touching medicaid or medicare.

This could have been done CHEAPER and more thoroughly a few decades from now when computers and nanotechnology are far more advanced.

Completely, ludicrously insane waste of a billion dollars.

Could make 330 megawatts worth of solar panels for that price.

Or could have made around 1 gigawatt worth of parabolic trough power plants for that price.

Fricken MORONS...
PieRSquare
5 / 5 (10) May 25, 2011
@that_guy: It has next to no gravity so all you can really do is snuggle up to it. Even if you could land what could you hope to learn?

@QC: Nice to see you're back to your pointless automatic criticism of everything. The name changes but the complaints all sound the same.
spectator
1 / 5 (12) May 25, 2011
@QC: Nice to see you're back to your pointless automatic criticism of everything. The name changes but the complaints all sound the same.


Who is QC?

Ok, so what? You got me.

I got banned for making a "religious statement," but endless anti-religion articles on comments from some atheists or even some half brain-dead guy are just fine.

I had half a mind not to bother coming back after the ban, but the hypocrissy of the adminstrator in banning me for "religious statements," while featuring that insane Hawking anti-christian article so motivated me that I shall redouble my efforts as it regards opposition to the insane doctrine of atheism.

Anyway, I neither criticize nor complain about everything, and even when I do, it is neither "pointless," nor automatic.

My posts on this particular article were a matter of fiscal and moral responsibility.
specpotater
2.9 / 5 (13) May 25, 2011
Man. Did I really just admit to being QC? Hmmm. I wonder if the admin will consider that and ban me again. Maybe if I tone down my posting volume and really stop and think about what I post before I do it.
It's just so hard to slow yourself down when you are as smart as I am and especially when you are surrounded by so many stopid, idiotic, moronic people.
that_guy
4.2 / 5 (9) May 25, 2011
@that_guy: It has next to no gravity so all you can really do is snuggle up to it. Even if you could land what could you hope to learn?

I suppose that's true, but it seems like it could be difficult. obviously must be a small asteroid. I would think that it would be a little easier to anchor to it temporarily somehow.

I was mostly wondering what would be the best way to do it.

@spectator
That's interesting. I think the issue here is that this is a science site. unless the article is distinctly about religion, then you should keep it scientific - which you don't.

Now, I don't condone the anti-religious haters, and I believe that perhaps one or two of them should be banned as well (As you may have seen on that hawking article), but i do understand their frustration with the evangelicals coming into this science site and introducing irrelevant religious dogma into a scientific conversation. cont
that_guy
5 / 5 (8) May 25, 2011
That is about as polite as going to a religious site and telling them they're all wrong because the big bang started everything and the bible is a pile of crap.
Pyle
3.7 / 5 (7) May 25, 2011
Which brings us full circle because asteroids are just the offal of our solar system left over after the planets were made!!!

Very well done that_guy.

The upside of sampling from this asteroid is that we could get good at it and maybe find some asteroids we can actually use. Whether it be as a station or for the raw materials. The gravity wells around planets and even the moon makes those other missions much costlier/riskier and there doesn't seem to be much we could do from or to Venus right now anyway.
spectator
1.5 / 5 (11) May 25, 2011
That is about as polite as going to a religious site and telling them they're all wrong because the big bang started everything and the bible is a pile of crap.


Actually, atheists spend an aweful lot of time on many Christian sites, and they generally are allowed more freedom than anyone else, to be honest.

I've actually been banned off quite a few Christian sites for opposing false doctrine and abusive and deceptive fund raising, including the two biggest ones in the world.

I was banned off a local mega-church's website twice for the "crime" of telling someone to think for themselves, and because I was able to show from the Bible multiple texts contradicting the Pastor on key doctrines, and confounded their best apologists. I had even been a regular member there for two years straight, some time ago. Don't attend any more, can't agree with what they are doing.

Some of those atheists more skillful than you guys actually confessed Jesus! Seriously.
spectator
2 / 5 (9) May 25, 2011
As you guys know, I'm not going to sugar coat anything, and I'm not always right either, but I'm going to speak my mind, especially when some so-called preacher is in clear abuse of his position.

"Christian" church organizations dislike that very, very much, because the reality is some of you are partly right. The modern so-called Christian, organized church is nothing more than a con game. It bears no resemblance to Biblical Christianity, for the most party, not even the ones who honestly think they do.

I would venture that up to 90% of so-called pastors in the U.S. are in it for money and/or social status.

You think that makes me happy? No, absolutely not. I'm ashamed to be associated with them. For a while I called some of them out publicly and even wrote letters to them. Doubt anyone read most of them, but the point is, I did my part by rebuking them and no longer participating.

I don't pretend all is well with Christianity. It isn't. many Christians today are deceivers
ubavontuba
3.2 / 5 (9) May 25, 2011
I think obtaining a sample is a good idea. There could be lots of interesting molecules on the surface which don't survive atmospheric entry, on meteor samples.

Vendicar_Decarian
1.4 / 5 (10) May 25, 2011
America is dead.

NASA isn't going anywhere.
spectator
1 / 5 (7) May 26, 2011
People.

Have you lost your minds?

You have GOT to be kidding.

A billion dollars for a mission to collect a piece of rock when you don't even know for sure your robot will even be able to get a piece in the first place.

Sorry, this is a completely insane and foolish waste of money.
mjc
5 / 5 (4) May 26, 2011
I'm glad QC and spectator are one and the same...it would be regretable if there were two people out there like that. Have you noticed that the science people never initiate discussions about religion; it's always a rebutle of some silly claim by a bible person. It would be nice if we could keep religion out of these comments (although I must confess, it is amusing at times).
mjc
1 / 5 (2) May 26, 2011
Specpotater...I didn't clue in at first. I get it now - you are funny. Keep the comments coming. And Spectater; I know you will continue to provide fodder for your pseudonym.
GDM
1 / 5 (2) May 26, 2011
I think it would be useful in many ways to explore an asteroid in its "native environment". However, if you want to exploit its resources, just land on the Moon and look for a crater. Working on the Moon, even with its (low) gravity well, will be far easier to accomplish than trying to survive long term is a deep space environment. We need to learn to walk before we can run.

...and please, this is a topic about asteroids, not religion. Go post your views on a more appropriate site.
Pyle
2 / 5 (3) May 26, 2011
Why is the Moon better than a deep space environment? Isn't the gravity well just a huge energy drain?
Na_Reth
1.3 / 5 (3) May 26, 2011
Arent some asteroids believed to be so massive that they have 1g? Or has that hypothesis been debunked already(it was quite old i think though)
There is some point to QC's post though. Maybe we should spend the money on concentrating on real asteroid mining machines instead, but i guess this would be the first step to that.
Heck we should make probes that produce gasses from space radiation(particle accelerators?) so that moving through space with ionized gas engines becomes cheaper. Although that mining close by passing asteroids would be pretty cheap.
Pyle
2.7 / 5 (3) May 26, 2011
Arent some asteroids believed to be so massive that they have 1g?
Huh??? Wouldn't an asteroid with 1g be a planet? Or are you thinking there would be a hollow asteroid spinning fast enough to have 1g on an interior surface? Or maybe an asteroid housing a black hole? oh oh I know, an asteroid made of unobtainium? Sorry, low hanging fruit.

Regarding real asteroid mining. I agree. Not bringing a drill seems like a valid point. You risk contamination, but it would be more effective if it turns out to be solid. They do have reason to believe that the composition is air gun vulnerable though.
Na_Reth
1 / 5 (2) May 26, 2011
Note that the asteroids surface is contaminated by space radiation anyway.

Huh??? Wouldn't an asteroid with 1g be a planet?


There are pretty big asteroids out there, and they could be compressed by collision events, to be believed so dense that they nearly have 1G, it was just a hypothesis, i do not know if counted in rotation.
Did i get down rated for that or what?
that_guy
5 / 5 (1) May 26, 2011
Arent some asteroids believed to be so massive that they have 1g?

Yes. There are two asteroids that are thought to have approximately 1G. They are called earth and venus. But technically, they should be called planets, not asteroids.

Newton created a law of gravity that was pretty close to the real thing as described by einstein's laws. An asteroid would have to have a density equivilent to the center of jupiter (Really really dense) to have earth's gravity.

So, since newton already had an idea of the mass/gravity relationship, this "asteroid with earth gravity" theory would have been disproven hundreds of years ago.
TheRedComet
4 / 5 (1) May 27, 2011
sneeze at it with a nitrogen canister and a collection cup...

It depends on the PSI if it where to be 5000 psi it would be sufficient.
As far as the little Steven Hawking spill that occurred that was on topic there is a difference posting religious rant on science oriented topics and religion oriented topics. If there is a here moderator here feel free to correct me.
bluehigh
1 / 5 (2) May 27, 2011
there just has to be another reason for NASA to be doing this. Maybe the chance of a known collision with earth is much higher than they are saying.
PieRSquare
4 / 5 (4) May 27, 2011
there just has to be another reason for NASA to be doing this. Maybe the chance of a known collision with earth is much higher than they are saying.
I disagree. Getting a sample of primordial organic molecules could help fill in important gaps in our knowledge of how life came to be on earth and what it would take to make it happen elsewhere. It's probably the most dominant of NASA's science priorities, it's why we keep going to Mars so often.
As far as collisions go NASA isn't the only organization watching the skies so it would be hard to keep it a secret when all you need is a telescope and a slide rule to figure it out.
Megadeth312
4.7 / 5 (3) May 28, 2011
@ QC/spectator/specpotater/ whatever you want to be called

You seem to admit to getting banned a lot... hmm maybe you should think about that.

It clear to everyone but you that nobody cares what you have to say, as none of it is credible, or sometimes even rational.

My only question to you, is why do you bother coming back? Every time you speak someone shows everyone else exactly why you're wrong, or more often why your comment is completely misplaced. Regardless of any real point you might have here or there, the way you go about speaking your mind completely detracts from it, especially the way you criticize absolutely everything in a completely destructive way.

At this point you may as well give up, as nobody takes you seriously.

I doubt any of this will actually reach you, but this is getting ridiculous.
bluehigh
2 / 5 (2) May 29, 2011
@PieRSquare> you must have missed the mention of accurate orbit determination. Clearly NASA have some concerns regarding impact as known probabilities of earth impact by this rock are already documented. If they were serious about a sample mission then just blasting away with a spray can would be replaced with a more serious effort. Its about the trajectory not the sample.

The mission will accurately measure the "Yarkovsky effect" ... to predict an Earth-approaching asteroid's path, they must understand how the effect will change its orbit.
OSIRIS-REx will help refine RQ36's orbit to ascertain its trajectory and devise future strategies to mitigate possible Earth impacts from celestial objects.

bluehigh
2.5 / 5 (2) May 29, 2011
.. to determine the impact of the effect it is required to know more detail of the particular rock properties. It seems from the text that this is a MUST in this case. Just to clarify the text, that knowing the properties of RQ36 will generally assist in ascertaining other celestial object trajectories, is incorrect. The details of each object must be acquired unless all the objects have the same properties. Hey, - mitigate possible Earth impact - is even explicitly mentioned.
bluehigh
2 / 5 (2) May 29, 2011
So amomg other tasks NASA are going to gather data to accurately determine this objects orbit in an expensive space mission and YOU can do it with a slide rule and a telescope.

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