WASHINGTON — Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver has begun putting together the component pieces of NASA’s Osiris-Rex asteroid-sampling probe, which is slated to launch in 2016, the agency announced March 31.

NASA announced the milestone one day after Osiris-Rex, shorthand for Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security-Regolith Explorer, passed its Key Decision Point D review — the NASA gateway between component hardware construction and integration.

“The spacecraft structure has been integrated with the propellant tank and propulsion system and is ready to begin system integration in the Lockheed Martin highbay,” Mike Donnelly, Osiris-Rex project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in the release.

Lockheed Martin and its subcontractors started building the Osiris-Rex flight hardware in April 2014.

Osiris Rex at Asteroid Bennu
Osiris Rex at Asteroid Bennu. Credit: NASA/Goddard/Chris Meaney

The mission’s five-instrument science payload, paid for by the University of Arizona, “is well into its environmental test phase and will be delivered later this summer/fall,” Donnelly said.

Osiris-Rex is set to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida in late 2016 aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5. 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.

Development has been proceeding more or less on schedule, despite the destruction of a metal box that was supposed to house the optics and electronics for the Osiris-Rex Visible and Infrared Spectrometer in July 2014. The Goddard-built box was lost in a massive chemical fire at subcontractor Highland Plating of Los Angeles, which NASA hired to apply a protective coating to the box. The box has since been rebuilt, coated and delivered to Goddard. The accident chewed up about $400,000 of reserve funding.

Osiris-Rex was selected in 2010 as the fourth in NASA’s New Horizons series of competitively awarded, medium-size planetary science missions. Development costs are capped at $800 million in 2010 dollars. Competition for NASA’s next New Frontiers mission is set to begin in October, NASA Planetary Science Director Jim Green said in February.

Osiris-Rex, like all New Frontiers programs, is not responsible for its launch bill, which for the asteroid sampler came to $183.5 million. The New Frontiers cost cap also does not include Osiris-Rex’s Regolith X-ray Imaging Spectrometer, a student experiment provided by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) of Cambridge. Including the MIT instrument and the rocket, Osiris-Rex will cost about $1 billion.


Dan Leone is a SpaceNews staff writer, covering NASA, NOAA and a growing number of entrepreneurial space companies. He earned a bachelor’s degree in public communications from the American University in Washington.