More than 100 scientists and engineers, including two from UCF, will gather at the Rosen Centre in Orlando Monday as part of the final preparation for a historic NASA mission launching from Kennedy Space Center on Thursday, Sept. 8.

The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission will send a spacecraft to near-Earth asteroid Bennu and collect a sample of the prehistoric asteroid. The sample will likely provide clues about how life started in the solar system. It will also provide scientists insight into how asteroids work – critical to developing mechanisms to deflect them when they threaten to strike Earth.

The team responsible for planning and executing the mission has been meeting twice a year since getting NASA’s green light to make the mission a reality.

“Now that we are ready to launch, the University of Central Florida is hosting this meeting, which will focus on reviewing post-launch operations,” said UCF Pegasus professor Humberto Campins, one of the members of the team. “Now that the hardware is completed and the spacecraft will be on its way, we will be focusing on what’s next – any post-launch adjustments — and we will be discussing details of the spacecraft operations once we arrive at Bennu.”

This is the 11th team meeting, which was set up to coincide with the scheduled launch. UCF College of Sciences Dean Michael Johnson will be making remarks to the group and wishing the team much success on its upcoming launch.

He has a lot to be proud of. Campins and associate physics professor Yan Fernandez are working on the project that includes hundreds of the best scientists and engineers in the nation and world.

The principal investigator is Dante Lauretta from the OSIRIS-REx Science Processing and Operations Center at the University of Arizona. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD, is providing overall mission management, systems engineering and safety and mission assurance. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver, CO, built the spacecraft and collaborators from institutions around the U.S. and other countries also contributed.

The main objectives of the mission are:

  1. Return and analyze a sample of pristine carbonaceous asteroid regolith in an amount sufficient to study the nature, history, and distribution of its constituent minerals and organic material.
  2. Map the global properties, chemistry, and mineralogy of a primitive carbonaceous asteroid to characterize its geologic and dynamic history and provide context for the returned samples.
  3. Document the texture, morphology, geochemistry and spectral properties of the regolith at the sampling site in situ at scales down to millimeters.
  1. Measure the Yarkovsky effect (a thermal force on the object) on a potentially hazardous asteroid and constrain the asteroid properties that contribute to this effect.
  1. Characterize the integrated global properties of a primitive carbonaceous asteroid to allow for direct comparison with ground-based telescopic data of the entire asteroid population.

The mission is a long one. The spacecraft will rendezvous with Bennu in August 2018. Then the team will spend a year analyzing the asteroid, creating maps and determining the best place to “touch” for that sample, Campins said.

While the spacecraft gets there, Campins with some help from Fernandez will be testing imaging software developed just for this mission. Once the spacecraft gets to its destination, Campins will be focused on analyzing data, creating maps of the surface of the asteroid and providing recommendations about ideal target sites as well as backup sites.

Others on the team will be focusing on their area of expertise to make sure the mission is a success. That includes preparing for a range of conditions that may be found on the asteroid.

The meeting concludes Wednesday, just before the scheduled launch on Thursday.

“We will be very, very busy,” Campins said. “And we are very, very eager. We can’t wait.”