United Launch Alliance (ULA) continues to progress towards Thursday’s launch of NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft. ULA completed their Launch Readiness Review on Tuesday, September 6, and are currently working no reported issues ahead of the September 8 launch date.
The L-2 forecast currently calls for an 80 percent chance of favorable weather, with the primary concern being cumulus clouds during the nearly 2-hour launch window. Should a 24-hour delay be necessary, the following day’s forecast worsens slightly with a 70 percent chance of favorable weather, with both cumulus and anvil clouds being the primary concerns.
The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is NASA’s first vehicle designed to return asteroid samples to Earth. Scientists hope to collect at least 60 grams (2.11 ounces) — or as much as 2 kilograms (4.41 pounds) — of material from the asteroid 101955 Bennu, and return it to the Utah Test and Training range in September 2023.
Launching atop a ULA Atlas V rocket in the comparatively rare 411 configuration — 4-meter payload fairing, single solid rocket booster, single-engined Centaur stage — the 1,529 kilogram (3,371 pound) explorer will conduct a variety of experiments ahead of the sample collection. Once the asteroid’s material has been secured, all science activities will cease as part of a measure to ensure the pristine material isn’t contaminated.
OSIRIS-REx is part of NASA’s highly successful New Frontiers program. Managed by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL, New Frontiers has fielded a couple of notable missions: New Horizons and Juno.
Thursday’s launch window opens at 7:05 pm EDT and extends to 9:00 pm EDT, and will launch from SLC-41 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.