NASA has selected the Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security-Regolith Explorer mission, known as OSIRIS-REx, as one of three candidates for the agency's next space venture to another celestial body in the solar system under the New Frontiers program.
The OSIRIS-REx team will receive approximately $3.3 million in 2010 to conduct a 12-month mission concept study that focuses on implementation feasibility, cost, management and technical plans. This study will also include plans for educational outreach and small business opportunities.
OSIRIS-REx will usher in a new era of planetary exploration. For the first time in space-exploration history, a mission will return a pristine sample of a carbonaceous asteroid.
The mission executes precise spacecraft navigation to the surface of the asteroid, thoroughly characterizes the asteroid and the sample site, acquires a significant quantity of pristine regolith and returns these samples safely to Earth for detailed analyses.
OSIRIS-REx's target asteroid is a time capsule from before the birth of our the solar system that records presolar history, the initial stages of planet formation and the sources of prebiotic organic compounds available for the origin of life.
This organic-rich asteroid is a type not available in our meteorite collections. OSIRIS-REx also explores the hazards and resources in near-Earth space that are important for securing Earth's future. Detailed knowledge of the target asteroid can be extrapolated to thousands of carbonaceous asteroids in the main belt, revealing the distribution of volatile and organic compounds across the solar system.
Michael Drake, director of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona, will serve as principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx. OSIRIS-REx brings together the UA's leadership in planetary science, Lockheed Martin's extensive experience in sample-return mission development and operations and the Goddard Space Flight Center's (GSFC) expertise in project management, systems engineering, and safety and mission assurance. The OSIRIS-REx payload includes instruments provided by the UA, GSFC, Arizona State University and the Canadian Space Agency.
"OSIRIS-REx is important to the University of Arizona as a large space project reflecting the UA's leadership in space," said Drake. "Over the next 12 months we will be working feverishly on concept study, leading to a report and an oral defense."
The OSIRIS-REx Mission Operations team combines the flight operations experience and knowledge of Lockheed Martin, KinetX and GSFC with the UA's instrument operations, Odyssey and Phoenix experience to provide cost efficient operations while achieving mission success. The OSIRIS-REx Navigation Team, lead by KinetX Space Navigation and Flight Dynamics, has experience with similar proximity operations for NEAR and Hayabusa and will operate in the successful, integrated NEAR mission model.
OSIRIS-REx will rendezvous with its target asteroid after roughly three years of cruising through space. After several months of performing a comprehensive global mapping of the texture, mineralogy and chemistry of its target asteroid, resolving geological features, revealing its geologic and dynamic history, providing context for the returned samples, documenting the asteroid's regolith at the sampling site in situ at scales down to the sub-millimeter, OSIRIS-REx will use its simple sampling mechanism to acquire a pristine sample and leave for home.
After a two-and-a-half year cruise back to Earth, OSIRIS-REx's Stardust-heritage sample return capsule will safely land at the Utah Test and Training Range. From there, the sample return capsule will be taken to the Johnson Space Center, where the samples are removed and delivered to the dedicated OSIRIS-REx curation facility. Here they will be available to the OSIRIS-REx science team and the global scientific community.
Precise analyses will be performed in terrestrial laboratories that cannot be duplicated by spacecraft-based instruments. Ongoing sample analysis by generations of scientists using cutting-edge tools and methods guarantees an enduring scientific treasure that only sample return can provide.
If selected, OSIRIS-Rex will provide a significant boost to the Arizona economy. "Approximately $100 million will be spent in Tucson and Arizona, a significant economic impact in these tough financial times," Drake said.
Combining true exploration and laboratory-based science, OSIRIS-REx leaves a multi-generational legacy for the science community and people of the world. Just as Apollo lunar samples are still being analyzed in new and previously unpredictable ways 40 years after their collection, OSIRIS-REx samples will be available for the future of humankind.
Students would have a major role in the OSIRIS-REx mission, one of the most exciting aspects of the mission to Drake and what he calls "the lasting legacy of OSIRIS-REx."
"These large research projects create enormous opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students. OSIRIS-REx will engage a large number of students in meaningful science and engineering projects, providing them with skills that most universities can only dream of and launching our talented undergraduates into the workforce with unmatchable resumes," Drake said.
"These are projects that inspire and excite young scientists, engineers and the public," said Ed Weiler, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
NASA will select one proposal for full development after detailed mission concept studies are completed and reviewed. The studies begin during 2010, and the selected mission must be ready for launch no later than Dec. 30, 2018. Mission cost, excluding the launch vehicle, is limited to $650 million.
The OSIRIS-REx Science team includes leaders in their fields from the University of Arizona, Goddard Space Flight Center, Johns Hopkins/Applied Physics Laboratory, MIT, Southwest Research Institute, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Arizona State University, Space Science Institute, Planetary Science Institute, Ithaca College, Kingsborough Community College of the City University of New York, Johnson Space Center, SETI Institute, Smithsonian Institution, Cornell University, Ames Research Center, University Of Colorado, Boulder, Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Observatoire de Paris, University of Winnipeg, CNRS - Observatoire de la Cote d'Azur, University of Toronto, University of Calgary, University of British Columbia, and the European Space Agency.