Canada is said to be teaming up with NASA to work on its Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer mission, or OSIRIS-REx for short, having its main objective be the first US probe to return samples from an asteroid.
A $61 million laser-based system named the Laser Altimeter (OLA), provided by Canada, is said to be mounted on the side of the probe and will serve scientists with high-resolution 3D maps of the asteroid named Bennu. With the images, scientists are then able to search for a safe place to land the probe in order to collect samples.
The Bennu asteroid is said to be 500 meters in diameter and regularly crosses Earth’s orbit, posing a chance to will hit our planet each time it passes. Calculations have previously indicated that there is one chance out of 1,800 that Bennu will hit Earth in 2182. However, the calculations are still not that precise. This is why scientists are anxious about the project and are eagerly awaiting the samples from the asteroid.
The probe is said to be ready for launch in 2016 and will reach the asteroid in 2018. The mission the will consist of the probe hovering Bennu for approximately 8 months, time that will be used for searching for a safe spot to collect the samples. Once that has been found, the probe is said to hover a few meters above the surface of the asteroid and collect the samples, having a return to Earth date set for 2023.
While the mission aims to serve scientist with the knowledge needed to predict the asteroid’s true path, it is said that the project itself aims at providing a deeper understanding of how asteroids are connected to the origins of the solar system as well.
The public is said to also be invited for the ride by sending their names on the round-trop journey to the asteroid. It is said that the name will be on the spacecraft, which will remain in space long after returning the sample return capsule to Earth. Sign-ups are said to close on September 30th, 2014 and people who would like to have their names floating around in the galaxy could fill up the form here.