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Apr 17, 2014 7:29 PM by John Overall

UA takes lead in NASA's asteroid mission

TUCSON - NASA has put the University of Arizona in charge of the OSIRIS-REx Mission. The University will build the spacecraft, flight instruments, ground system and support facilities for this mission.

OSIRIS-REx is the first U.S. Mission scheduled to collect samples from a near-earth asteroid.

UA Professor Dante Lauretta is the Principal Investigator for the mission. "This is the biggest, boldest project we've ever taken on. It's 200 million dollars into the Arizona economy," said Lauretta.

Asteroid Bennu is about two-and-a-half times the size of A-mountain. It was selected for this mission because it is so close to earth.

"The asteroid is very important to study. First of all it's potentially hazardous with a high probability of impacting the earth so we're going to understand its material properties in the event we need to make a deflection mission," Lauretta said.

The spacecraft will briefly land on the asteroid and take a sample from the surface. "We're only going to touch for five seconds, grab that precious sample, and then get away from the surface," Lauretta said.

The small sample will allow scientists to study asteroid Bennu's geologic history and hopefully uncover new information about the formation of the solar system.

The University of Arizona is also building 3 cameras to scan and map the asteroid.

Catherine Merrill is the O-CAMS lead engineer. Merrill says the sampling camera will capture the money shot from this mission.

"Sam cam's whole job is to watch as we sample the asteroid so that's the camera that will take images as we go down and come back up. So I'm sure those will probably be the most famous images from the whole mission," Merrill said.

OSIRIS-REx is scheduled to launch in 2016. It will connect with the asteroid in 2018 and study it for a year before grabbing the sample and return to earth in 2023.

You can follow the mission at


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