New NASA probe will return samples from distant asteroid

NASA has announced it will launch a sample-return mission to an asteroid in 2016

A visualisation of the OSIRIS-REx probe. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona


By Vandana Gupta

NASA has announced it will launch a spacecraft to an asteroid in 2016. The mission, called the Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer (or OSIRIS-REx), will return samples of the near-Earth asteroid 1999 RQ36.

It will take the probe four years to reach 1999 RQ36. When it gets there it will manoeuvre down to the asteroid’s surface to collect a sample using a special robotic arm. The material will then be stowed away safely and sent back to Earth in its own sealed capsule, which will land at a site in Utah in 2023.

While visiting 1999 RQ36, OSIRIS-REx will also extensively map the asteroid, providing accurate data about its shape and surface characteristics. The 580-metre wide asteroid is thought to be rich in carbon. In studying it scientists from NASA hope to glean more information about what the early Solar System was like.  

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