NASA Asteroid-Sampling Spacecraft Being Prepped for September Launch

OSIRIS-REx at Kennedy Space Center
The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft's protective cover is removed at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (Image credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis)

A NASA asteroid-sampling probe has entered the home stretch of its prelaunch preparations.

On May 20, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft arrived at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida after a journey from aerospace company Lockheed Martin's facility near Denver. (Lockheed built the probe for NASA.)

Mission team members are now fueling OSIRIS-REx and testing its software, scientific instruments, solar panels and other critical systems before moving the probe to the pad for an expected Sept. 8 launch, NASA officials said.

"Delivering OSIRIS-REx to the launch site marks an important milestone — one that's been many years in the making," Rich Kuhns, OSIRIS-REx program manager at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, said in a statement.

"The spacecraft has undergone a rigorous environmental test program in Denver, but we still have plenty of work ahead of us," Kuhns added. "Many on our team have temporarily moved to Florida so they can continue final processing and have the spacecraft ready for the Sept. 8 launch date."

After liftoff, OSIRIS-REx  — whose name stands for Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer — will embark on a two-year cruise to the near-Earth asteroid Bennu.

Upon arrival in 2018, the probe will study the 1,650-foot-wide (500 meters) Bennu from orbit for two years. In 2020, OSIRIS-REx will snag a sample weighing at least 2.1 ounces (60 grams), and this sample will come back to Earth in 2023, if all goes according to plan.

Bennu is expected to harbor water and organic molecules that could share a history similar to that of such substances on Earth, NASA officials have said. Bennu is also a potentially hazardous asteroid, so studying the space rock up close could have planetary-defense implications as well, mission team members have said.

OSIRIS-REx will not be the first spacecraft to return asteroid samples to Earth. That distinction belongs to Japan's Hayabusa probe, which sent pieces of the space rock Itokawa home in 2010.

OSIRIS-REx arrived at Kennedy Space Center after a flight aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo plane, which took off from Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colorado.

Follow Elizabeth Howell @howellspace, or @Spacedotcom. We're also on Facebook and Google+. Originally published on

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at:

Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: