Lockheed Finishes Building Asteroid Sample Return Craft

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WASHINGTON — Lockheed Martin Space Systems finished assembling NASA’s Osiris-Rex asteroid sample retrieval spacecraft, which now will undergo five months of testing to ensure it is space worthy, the company said in an Oct. 21 press release.

Lockheed will test the Osiris-Rex — short for Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer — at its Space Systems campus outside of Denver. The spacecraft will undergo vibration and acoustic tests to ensure it can survive the harsh forces of a rocket launch, after which it will be placed in thermal vacuum chamber that mimics the airlessness and temperature swings of space.

Osiris-Rex is set to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, in September 2016 aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket. The spacecraft will arrive at the asteroid Bennu around 2018 and descend to its surface to collect at least a 60-gram sample, which the craft will return to Earth in 2023.

Osiris-Rex was selected in 2010 as the fourth in NASA’s New Horizons series of competitively selected planetary science missions. Including the roughly $180 million launch, the mission will cost about $1 billion.

Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona is the principal investigator for Osiris-Rex, responsible for all facets of the mission.