The OSIRS-REx mission, developed by the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, and Lockheed Martin Space Systems, is scheduled for launch in 2016.
This asteroid sample-return mission is interesting for a number of reasons. OSIRIS-REx stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security – Regolith Explorer. This marks the first time that resource prospecting and planetary defense have been prominently highlighted, along with science, as part of a NASA unmanned space mission. This should become the standsard model for all future missions.
Also interesting is the way OSIRIS-REx team members have tested their experiments in a low-gravity environment.
Last fall, NASA’s Reduced Gravity Office flew the OSIRIS-REx Low-Gravity Regolith Sampling Tests on NASA’s C-9 “Weightless Wonder.” OSIRIS-REx Science Team members Dante Lauretta, Bill Boynton, Beau Bierhaus, and Scott Messenger donned flight suits, along with Lockheed Martin engineers Joe Vellinga, David Wurts, Kevin Payne, James Harris and Tony Siderius for a series of five flights conducted between October 16 and October 18, 2012. Science Team Member Keiko Nakamura-Messenger supplied ground support for the flights.
The Weightless Wonder pilots flew a very-low positive-gee trajectory to test the Touch-And-Go-Sample-Acquisition-Mechanism being developed by Lockheed Martin.
The team conducted one flight on the first day and two flights on each succeeding day. For each flight, two team members remained on the ground to review the results of previous tests and prepare for the next flight.
This test campaign shows the utility of human-tended flight experiments in developing instruments and equipment for space-science missions. Team members noted that their experiment preparations were complicated by the fact that the Weightless Wonder only gave them 14 seconds of ultra-low gravity. In the future, suborbital spacecraft will be able to provide researchers with longer periods of low- and microgravity.
We hope that those who doubt the utility of human-tended experiments and suborbital spacecraft for scientific research are paying attention.