NASA will launch an asteroid sample return mission in 2016, officials announced today.
The mission, called the Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) will be the first by the US to bring back material from an asteroid. In 2003, the Japanese Space Agency launched Hayabusa, which returned material from the asteroid Itakawa 2010. Compared to Hayabusa, which brought back around 1000 grains, OSIRIS-Rex will bring back from 60 grams to 2 kilograms worth of material. OSIRIS-REx may also be more relevant to the question of life’s origins because it will visit a carbonaceous meteorite, 1999 RQ36 , that may harbor organic materials like amino acids that may have seeded the Earth 4.5 billion years ago, argued principal investigator Michael Drake at a press conference today. “The big difference is that we are going to something rich in organics,” he said.
The mission will cost $800 million, which comes to around $1 billion including the launch vehicle. OSIRIS-REx beat two competing mission concepts, one a sample return from the dark side of the moon and the other a visit to Venus. Paul Hertz, chief scientist of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said all three missions scored highly on scientific value but that OSIRIS-REx won out on two other criteria: how likely the payload was to work, and how feasible the mission was. “I wish we could’ve done all three,” he said.
Image: NASA / Goddard / University of Arizona
Corrected May 27: the cost of OSIRUS-REx was corrected to $1 billion in total including launch; not $1 billion for launch on top of an $800 million mission cost as stated in an earlier version of this post.