What is OSIRIS-REx?
OSIRIS-REx is the first US-led mission to return a sample from an asteroid to Earth. The mission aims to better explain our solar system's formation and potentially even how life began. OSIRIS-REx will also give us a better understanding of one of the most potentially hazardous asteroids currently known to humanity.
What does OSIRIS-REx stand for?
Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer.
What is Canada's role in the OSIRIS-REx mission?
Canada is contributing a laser instrument known as OLA (short for the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter), which is funded by the Canadian Space Agency. In addition to OLA, Canada is contributing scientific expertise to the OSIRIS-REx mission. Scientists from around the country are also part of the mission team.
When does OSIRIS-REx launch?
Launch is scheduled for September 8, 2016, at 7:05 p.m. EDT (4:05 p.m. PDT) aboard an Atlas V rocket at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The mission has a 34-day launch window, meaning that, there is a slight delay due to weather or technical reasons, NASA has a total of 34 days to launch the spacecraft to Bennu.
What is the mission duration of OSIRIS-REx?
OSIRIS-REx is a 14-year mission: from selection in May 2011 through to the sample analysis in 2025. Future generations of scientists will continue to study the sample returned to Earth for decades beyond the mission, though, much like researchers today still study the Moon rocks from the Apollo missions.
How long will it take for OSIRIS-REx to reach its target asteroid Bennu?
How will the mission unfold?
OSIRIS-REx will be launched in September 2016, and will reach Bennu, its target asteriud, in 2018. Scientists will then use five instruments on board to study the asteroid for about 6-8 months, mapping its entire surface with centimetre precision. After the sample location is chosen, the spacecraft will approach the surface, and—without landing—extend a robotic arm to collect over 60g of fine gravel, dust, and small rocks from the asteroid's surface. The sample will be sealed inside a capsule, which will be sent back to Earth, touching down in the Utah desert in 2023.
When will OSIRIS-REx return?
The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will leave Bennu in 2021 and reach Earth's orbit in 2023. After releasing the sample return capsule to land on Earth, the spacecraft itself will leave to begin a new orbit around the sun, positioned between Earth and Venus.
Is OSIRIS-REx the first mission to return a sample from an asteroid?
No. The first mission to successfully return a sample of an asteroid to Earth was Japan's Hayabusa mission (launched in 2003, a small sample was returned in 2010).
Is OSIRIS-REx the first US mission to visit an asteroid?
No. NASA's first spacecraft to visit an asteroid was the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous-Shoemaker spacecraft, which landed on the asteroid Eros on February 12, 2001.
How far will the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft travel?
1,349,382,617 km round-trip relative to Earth.
How much is the Canadian Space Agency investing in OSIRIS-REx?
The CSA's total investment in OSIRIS-REx for the full life-cycle of the mission is $61 million over 15 years to support the development of OLA and the science team.
Why won't OSIRIS-REx land on the asteroid? Why will it just obtain a sample without touching down on the surface?
Asteroids are very small compared to planets, and they have very low gravity. This makes it very difficult to land and stay put on their surface. It is more efficient and safe to simply approach the surface and pluck a sample than to actually touch down on the surface.
How did the asteroid Bennu get its name?
In 2013, Michael Puzio, a nine-year-old student in grade three in North Carolina, USA, won an international student contest to give the asteroid a friendlier name. Michael suggested the name because he imagined the spacecraft's robotic arm and solar panels look like the neck and wings of Bennu, the Egyptian deity often depicted as a grey heron.
How big is Bennu?
Bennu is roughly 500 metres in diameter. For comparison, the CN Tower in Toronto, Ontario, is 553 metres high.
Where is asteroid Bennu?
Unlike most asteroids, which are located in the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, Bennu travels through space on an elliptical orbit between Venus and Mars.
Why did scientists choose to study Bennu?
Researchers consider Bennu an exciting—and accessible—celestial body. It is classified as a B-type asteroid, and considered to be a rare specimen due to its unusually dark colour. It has changed little since the time of its formation 4 billion years ago, and may reveal a wealth of information about the early Solar System.
Of the 500,000 or so catalogued asteroids and about 9000 Near-Earth Objects, Bennu is also one of the most potentially hazardous known to humanity, with a 1/2700 risk of impacting Earth late in the 2200s. Understanding its orbit and composition will help provide more conclusive data on how and when it might collide with our planet.
Will Bennu hit Earth? When?
Bennu crosses paths with Earth every 6 years, which makes it a potentially hazardous asteroid which could possibly threaten Earth one day. But no one knows for certain that it will, in fact, collide with our planet. Scientists track Bennu's orbit, and predictions show that it will come close to Earth late in the 2200s. But there are still many factors that make its precise orbit difficult to calculate. One of the goals of the OSIRIS-REx mission is to carefully measure Bennu's orbit and how it varies to better predict the odds of it hitting Earth in the future.
What is an asteroid?
Asteroids are small, rocky bodies in our solar system. They are made up of the remnants of the primitive building blocks that created the terrestrial planets in our solar system. Most of them are located in between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter in a region known as the "asteroid belt."
What's the difference between an asteroid, a comet, a meteor and a meteorite?
Asteroids are composed mainly of rock and metals, while comets are made of ice, dust and small rocks. An object becomes a meteor if it enters Earth's atmosphere. Since meteors leave visible streaks across the sky, they are often known as shooting stars. The term "meteorite" refers to solid debris that survives entry and impact with the ground.
Why should we study asteroids?
To better explain our solar system's formation and how life began, and to increase our understanding of asteroids that could impact Earth.
Asteroids are essentially remnants of the primitive building blocks that created the terrestrial planets in our solar system. Scientists believe that asteroids have not changed very much over the time they were formed, making them cosmic time capsules that can reveal how planets like our own world formed. In addition, asteroids are thought to contain organic molecules like amino acids—the basis for proteins and DNA—leading to speculation that a meteorite from an asteroid could have seeded the early Earth with the building blocks of life.
Why should Canada study asteroids?
The Canadian landscape is pockmarked with some of the largest meteor impact craters in the world—some of which, like the Manicouagan crater in Quebec, are thought to have been caused by an asteroid.
For decades, scientists in Canada have been studying through telescopes or by recovering fragments of asteroids that have landed on Canadian soil through meteorite impacts. However, meteors that enter our atmosphere are subjected to extreme temperatures, baking away some of the key clues scientists need. Journeying to the asteroid will validate what we have learned though telescopes and meteorites, and help us understand asteroids up close by bringing back a pristine, unaltered sample.
Are asteroids dangerous?
Earth has been hit many times by stray asteroids whose orbit brings them into our vicinity. Sometimes, the effects of these collisions have been spectacular. For example, scientists believe that the dinosaurs disappeared after an asteroid struck Mexico's Yucatan peninsula 65 or 66 million years ago. The impact kicked up massive amounts of dust and debris into the atmosphere, blocking out the Sun's light and causing the Earth's temperature to cool, which led to the extinction of many species.
Most asteroids are located far from Earth in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, though, and are not dangerous at all. In fact, out of 500,000 known asteroids, only about a thousand are labelled as potentially hazardous.
While asteroids attract attention (and fear) for their impacts, scientists think an asteroid could actually have planted the seeds for all life on Earth. Studying an asteroid will reveal more information about how they form and evolve, as well as how their orbits develop, contributing to our understanding of which asteroids may be hazardous for Earth and better predicting whether or not they may hit our planet.