NASA selects asteroid mission for New Frontiers Program

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[1] NASA has selected an unmanned mission to study and return samples from a carbonaceous asteroid as the third mission in its New Frontiers Program, the agency announced on 25 May. The Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) is scheduled for a 2016 launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla., and a 2023 return to Utah's Test and Training Range. It will be the first U.S. mission to return samples from an asteroid to Earth and the first to return asteroid samples that could help scientists understand organics on Earth. The mission aims to sample the approximately 1900-foot-diameter asteroid, 1999 RQ36, which is named for the year it was discovered. This asteroid is “kind of a time capsule from 4.5 billion years ago, when the solar system formed,” according to OSIRIS-REx principal investigator Michael Drake, director of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona, Tucson, which NASA selected to lead the mission. The NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., is managing the mission, and Lockheed Martin will build the spacecraft. The mission is expected to cost $800 million, excluding the $1 billion launch vehicle.

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