The mission, called Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-Rex, will be the first U.S. mission that will collect samples from an asteroid, and then bring them back to Earth.
” It’s robotic missions like these that will pave the way for future human space missions to an asteroid and other deep space destinations,” said NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden.
Asteroids are leftovers formed from the clouds of gas and dust that collapsed to form our sun and the planets about 4.5 billion years ago. Thus, they contain original material from the solar nebula, which could tell us about the conditions under which our solar system was formed.
After a journey of four years, OSIRIS will reach near the asteroid called 1999 RQ36 in 2020. Once it has reached a distance of five kilometers from the asteroid, the spacecraft will map its entire surface for six months.
Then, researchers will choose a place where the arm will collect more than 50 grams of material that it will bring to Earth in 2023. The mission will cost about $ 800 million, not including the cost of the launch vehicle.
“This asteroid is a time capsule from the birth of our solar system and ushers in a new era of planetary exploration,” said Jim Green, director at NASA’s Planetary Science Division in Washington.
NASA is interested to see if RQ36 will carry organic molecules, such as the type previously found in samples of meteorites and comets.
Scientists have noticed that each time RQ36 ends its 20-year route around the sun, it comes a little closer to the Earth. They say that from time to time its route will get at a dangerous distance from our planet.
Experts say there is a risk that it will hit us. The NASA mission will allow a better analysis of its route, which will lead to strategies to prevent asteroid impacts.