To Begin Building Asteroid Sampler For NASA
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[April 11, 2014]
By Irene Klotz
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) — A NASA
mission to pluck samples from a distant asteroid and return them to
Earth passed a major technical review, clearing engineers to begin
building the robotic spacecraft, officials said on Thursday.
The $800 million mission, known as OSIRIS-Rex, is targeted for
launch in September 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in
The spacecraft would rendezvous with asteroid 1999 RQ36, nicknamed
Bennu, two years later for mapping and surveys, then use a robotic
arm to collect samples for return in 2023.
Scientists are keenly interested in studying what minerals and
chemicals the asteroid contains. Similar asteroids crashing into
early Earth are believed to have provided the organic materials and
water needed for life to form.
"This is a pioneering effort, both technologically and
scientifically," lead scientist Dante Lauretta, with the University
of Arizona in Tucson, said in a statement.
An independent review panel completed a comprehensive technical
assessment of the mission, clearing prime contractor Lockheed Martin
Corp to begin building the spacecraft, flight instruments and ground
system, the company said in a press release.
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"The OSIRIS-Rex team has consistently demonstrated its ability to
present a comprehensive mission design that meets all requirements
within the resources provided by NASA," Lauretta added.
NASA in August signed a separate $183.5-million contract with United
Launch Services for an Atlas 5 rocket and related flight services
for OSIRIS-Rex. United Launch Services, along with sister company
United Launch Alliance, which markets to the U.S. military, is a
partnership of Lockheed Martin and Boeing Co.
(Editing by Eric Walsh)
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