NASA has selected the University of Arizona to lead a sample-return mission to an asteroid. The team is led by Michael Drake, director of the UA’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. will manage the mission for NASA. Lockheed Martin will build the spacecraft.
OSIRIS-REx stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer.
Scheduled for launch in 2016, the OSIRIS-REx mission will return the first samples ever taken from a special type of asteroid holding clues to the origin of the solar system and likely organic molecules that may have seeded life on Earth.
OSIRIS-REx also will investigate an object potentially hazardous to humanity. 1999 RQ36 has a one-in-1,800 chance of impacting the Earth in the year 2182.
Spending more than a year exploring 1999 RQ36 before acquiring samples, OSIRIS-REx will provide geologic context essential to expanding our understanding of the asteroid-comet continuum. The mission will provide near-live coverage of 1999 RQ36 operations and sample return to Earth. Samples will return to Earth in the year 2023.