TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The OSIRIS-REx mission to touch an asteroid and bring back a piece of it is going very well.
That's the word from the University of Arizona scientists who are in charge of the NASA mission.
The spacecraft was launched a little more than two weeks ago and is already millions of miles from earth, and project leaders in Tucson on Monday gave an update on what comes next for the $800 million project.
They said the cameras, which were built at the UA, the instruments and everything else needed to meet up with the asteroid, Bennu, in two years are working the way they should to make it a successful mission.
The scientists displayed two of the images OSIRIS-REx has sent back. The pictures show that the all-important cameras are working.
The main mission is to bring back dust and rocks from the asteroid's surface to help scientists understand the origins of the solar system.
In the two years until OSIRIS-REx reaches Bennu the scientists have to keep testing, programming and practicing for when they find the asteroid and begin mapping it with the cameras, "to understand the geology and the processes that are happening on the surface, ultimately allowing us to focus on areas where we might want to get the sample from. And then we'll go in with our high resolution images, getting pictures that could see a dime on the surface of the asteroid to really help us understand--is that a safe place to send the spacecraft to get the sample," said OSIRIS-REx Mission Principal Investigator, Dr. Dante Lauretta.
Mapping the asteroid will take about two years.
The mission has captured the world's attention.
"To be able to be part of a pathfinder type of mission that's an asteroid sampler mission here in your home town is huge in the fact that it really demonstrates that we have some of the best and brightest right here in our backyard and at the University of Arizona. So it makes everybody want to be part of the team which means we attract a lot of great talent and really ambitious and passionate people," said OSIRIS-REx incoming Deputy Principal Investigator Heather Enos.
OSIRIS-REx also will be helping scientists learn to predict whether an asteroid might become a danger to earth.
Outgoing OSIRIS-REx Deputy Principal Investigator Edward Beshore said the spacecraft is a pathfinder, the first that is readying us for the day that we might find an asteroid that could threaten earth.
"I have no doubt that the mission would look a lot like the OSIRIS-REx mission. We would study to it make sure we understood its composition, how we might be able to deflect it. So the OSIRIS-REx mission is really pathfinding a lot of the technologies that are needed in order to do that initial reconnaissance of hazardous asteroids," Beshore said.
OSIRIS-REx will bring the asteroid sample back in 2023.
Then scientists all around the world, including at the University of Arizona will begin studying it.