The UA is headed back out to space with a new NASA mission in roughly three weeks.
Asteroid hunter OSIRIS-REx is scheduled for liftoff on Thursday, Sept. 8.
The pretty damn cool science mission, led by Principal Investigator and UA Professor of Planetary Science Dante Lauretta, will spend the next two years chasing down the near-earth asteroid Bennu. Once OSIRIS-REx catches up with Bennu in October 2018, it will start relaying photos and other data back to earth about the makeup of the asteroid. On Independence Day 2020, the robotic spacelab will scoot right on up next to Bennu before reaching out with a robot arm to blast some dust from the surface and catch it with a container. Sometime around March 2021, OSIRIS-REx heads back to earth—hopefully without having been infected with a techo-organic virus that will destroy mankind—and in September 2023, the capsule with the asteroid dust pops loose of OSIRIS-REx and lands somewhere in the Utah desert. From there, the science teams will be off to races with their analysis of the sample.
Asteroids like Bennu are loaded with the primordial building blocks of the planets, so scientists hope to learn more about what the young earth was like and see if they can find clues as to the origin of life.
“To me, the mission is driven by the return of pristine organic molecules from the early solar system so I’m really hopeful that we can get some unique material that isn’t in our meteorite collections,” Lauretta said today at a NASA press conference to update reporters on the looming launch. "It really is a great adventure. We're going out into the unknown and bringing back scientific treasure. I'm looking forward to the day in 2023 when we open up that sample return capsule."
Read more about the OSIRIS-REx and its instrument suite
here. Here's a great timeline
about the mission. Here's the OSIRIS-REx’s website.