Thursday is launch day for OSIRIS-REx mission to asteroid (Livestream)
Thursday is launch day for OSIRIS-REx mission to asteroid (Livestream)

Thursday is launch day for OSIRIS-REx mission to asteroid “Livestream”

NASA managers have given their approval for the launch Sept. 8 of an Atlas 5 carrying a spacecraft that will travel to a nearby asteroid, collect samples and return them to Earth.

The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security-Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-REx, mission passed a launch readiness review Sept. 6, the last major review prior to its launch from Cape Canaveral at 7:05 p.m. Eastern Sept. 8. A weather forecast projects an 80 percent chance of acceptable weather for launch.

After it leaves the atmosphere on an Atlas V rocket, the spacecraft will take two years to reach its destination, a near-Earth asteroid called Bennu. Upon arrival in 2018, OSIRIS will begin an multi-year mission of mapping the 1,650-foot asteroid and bringing home a scoop of carbon-rich space rocks, which researchers believe may hold 4.5 billion-year-old leftovers from the beginning of the solar system and some of the basic building blocks of life.

Unlike the European Space Agency’s ill-fated Philae lander, OSIRIS-Rex won’t be crashing into Bennu’s surface. In July 2020, after a year-long survey of the surface, NASA will pick a sampling site and begin a slow, one-quarter mile per hour descent. As the New York Times reports, the Lockheed Martin-designed spacecraft will bounce gently off the asteroid “like a pogo stick” while a sampling head uses a blast of nitrogen gas to collect dirt and small rocks. NASA hopes to gather anywhere from a couple ounces to nearly four and a half pounds of material before the craft starts a two-year trip home. In September 2023, OSIRIS-Rex will airdrop the samples in a parachute capsule that will land in the Utah desert.

For now, however, viewers here on Earth can follow Thursday’s launch with NASA’s livestream coverage on YouTube. According to NASA’s official schedule, the stream will go live sometime on Wednesday, September 7th, but will be pretty uneventful until the Atlas rocket is loaded with cryogenic fuel starting around 4:30 PM ET on Thursday afternoon. The two-hour launch window lasts from 7:05 PM ET to 9:05 PM ET and NASA will be broadcasting the launch countdown via the Kennedy Space Center’s Facebook and Twitter.


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