NASA announced that it will launch an unmaned ship to a nearby asteroid, in an attempt to figure out more about both the asteroid itself, and how life started on our planet.
The mission, named Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer – or, as always, with an easier more manageable name, Osiris-Rex was chosen to take place from a number of other missions, which included a trip to the far side of Venus.
“This is a critical step in meeting the objectives outlined by President Obama to extend our reach beyond low-Earth orbit and explore into deep space,” said NASA administrator Charlie Bolden. “It’s robotic missions like these that will pave the way for future human space missions to an asteroid and other deep space destinations.”
After a four year travel, Osiris-Rex will approach the near-Earth asteroid 1999 RQ36 in 2020; once it is there, it will remain at a three mile distance for six months, during which it will map the surface of the asteroid. After that, it will draw closer allowing a robotic arm to collect more than two ounces of material for return to Earth in 2023 at the NASA space center in Houston.
Ths mission will help understand the ‘Yarkovsky effect’ for the first time – a small push caused by the sun on an asteroid as it absorbs sunlight and re-emits that energy as heat, an effect that plays a crucial role in avoiding collisions with asteroids.
“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 of NASA‘s Planetary Science Division. “The knowledge from the mission also will help us to develop methods to better track the orbits of asteroids.”