NASA prepares to sample an asteroid


Artist’s concept of OSIRIS-REx mission to asteroid Bennu. Image via NASA.

NASA is leading an international collaboration that’ll soon launch a seven-year sample return mission to an asteroid. The asteroid, called Bennu, is of the near-Earth variety. Its orbit brings it near our planet occasionally, for good or ill (good because asteroids contain possible useful resources, ill because earthly astronomers have come to realize that asteroids still can and do sometimes collide with Earth). Launch of the new mission from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida is scheduled for September 8, 2016 at 7:05 p.m. EDT (2305 UTC; translate to your time zone), but there’s a 34-day launch window, so there’s plenty of time. The mission is called OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer), and NASA said it will:

… help scientists investigate how planets formed and how life began, as well as improve our understanding of asteroids that could impact Earth.

OSIRIS-REx will launch aboard an Atlas V 411 rocket and reach its asteroid target in 2018. It’ll survey Bennu to characterize the asteroid and locate the most promising sample sites.