OSIRIS-REx Begins Its Journey to Asteroid Bennu

NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft blasted-off at 7:05 p.m. EDT Thursday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. OSIRIS-REx, the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program, will be the first U.S. probe to sample an asteroid.

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station carrying NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on the first U.S. mission to sample an asteroid, retrieve at least two ounces of surface material and return it to Earth for study. Image credit: Sandy Joseph / Tim Terry / NASA.

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station carrying NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft on the first U.S. mission to sample an asteroid, retrieve at least two ounces of surface material and return it to Earth for study. Image credit: Sandy Joseph / Tim Terry / NASA.

OSIRIS-REx was launched aboard the United Launch Alliance Atlas V 411 rocket. The Atlas booster for this mission was powered by the RD AMROSS RD-180 engine, and the Centaur upper stage was powered by the Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10A engine.

Lifting off at 7:05 p.m. EDT (4:05 p.m. PDT, 11:05 p.m. GMT, 1:05 a.m. CET Sept. 9, 4:35 a.m. IST Sept. 9, 9:05 a.m. AEST Sept. 9) from Space Launch Complex 41, the rocket’s launch was timed to put OSIRIS-REx on an exact course to reach the asteroid Bennu in August 2018.

Burning a combination of refined kerosene called RP-1 and liquid oxygen, the first stage of the rocket pushed the spacecraft through the dense lower layers of the atmosphere, then the Centaur stage took over, propelling OSIRIS-REx faster and higher.

The spacecraft separated from the liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen fueled second stage at 8:04 p.m. EDT (5:04 p.m. PDT, 0:04 a.m. GMT Sept. 9, 2:04 a.m. CET Sept. 9, 5:34 a.m. IST Sept. 9, 10:04 a.m. AEST Sept. 9). The solar arrays deployed and are now powering OSIRIS-REx.

“Today, we celebrate a huge milestone for this remarkable mission, and for this mission team,” said Charles Bolden, Administrator of NASA.

“We’re very excited about what this mission can tell us about the origin of our Solar System, and we celebrate the bigger picture of science that is helping us make discoveries and accomplish milestones that might have been science fiction yesterday, but are science facts today.”

“With today’s successful launch, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft embarks on a journey of exploration to Bennu. I couldn’t be more proud of the team that made this mission a reality, and I can’t wait to see what we will discover at Bennu,” said Prof. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Principal Investigator on the OSIRIS-REx mission.

“This represents the hopes and dreams and blood, sweat and tears of thousands of people who have been working on this for years.”

“It’s satisfying to see the culmination of years of effort from this outstanding team,” said OSIRIS-REx project manager Dr. Mike Donnelly, from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

“We were able to deliver OSIRIS-REx on time and under budget to the launch site, and will soon do something that no other NASA spacecraft has done – bring back a sample from an asteroid.”

OSIRIS-REx will make a swing by Earth next year to gain a gravity assist that will accelerate it even faster to reach Bennu, where it will eventually go into orbit.

This flight is the third of NASA’s New Frontiers Program. The first two – New Horizons and Juno – have already made contributions to the study of the outer Solar System and are still operating.

“We keep hitting it out of the park and tonight we hit it off the planet,” said Dr. Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science division.

“Tonight is a night for celebration, we are on the way to an asteroid. We’re going to be answering some of the most fundamental questions that NASA works on,” said Dr. Ellen Stofan, NASA’s chief scientist.