Launch of NASA Asteroid Mission Unaffected by SpaceX Failure

Atlas 5 Payload fairing with OSIRIS-REx
The Atlas 5 payload fairing containing NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is installed on top of the rocket Aug. 29 at Space Launch Complex 41. (Image credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis)

WASHINGTON — NASA said Sept. 1 that the launch of an asteroid sample return mission from Florida remained on schedule for next week despite the explosion of SpaceX Falcon 9 at a neighboring launch pad.

The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft was inside its payload fairing atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 at Cape Canaveral's Space Launch Complex 41 when the Falcon 9 at the neighboring Space Launch Complex 40, less than two kilometers away, exploded during preparations for a static-fire test on the morning of Sept. 1.

Mike Curie, a NASA spokesman at the Kennedy Space Center, said a few hours after the SpaceX incident that he was not aware of any effects the explosion had on OSIRIS-REx. The agency confirmed that assessment later in the day.

"Initial assessments indicate the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket and OSIRIS-REx spacecraft are healthy and secure in the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex-41," NASA said in a statement distributed through social media.

OSIRIS-REx is being prepared for a launch at 7:05 p.m. Eastern Sept. 8. NASA announced Sept. 1 that the mission passed a flight readiness review that day "and concluded that there are no issues or concerns that would preclude continuing to target launch" for Sept. 8, NASA said in a separate statement. A launch countdown dress rehearsal is scheduled for Sept. 2, and a final launch readiness review for Sept. 6.

OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA's New Frontiers program of medium-class planetary science missions. The spacecraft will travel to the near-Earth asteroid Bennu, collect samples from the asteroid's surface, and return them to Earth in 2023. Those samples will allow scientists to study asteroid's composition, including looking for traces of organic compounds that might have delivered the building blocks of life to the early Earth.

"This is really the driver of our science," said Dante Lauretta, the University of Arizona planetary scientist who is the principal investigator on OSIRIS-REx, at a NASA briefing in August. "We seek samples that date back to the very dawn of our solar system."

This story was provided by SpaceNews, dedicated to covering all aspects of the space industry.

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Jeff Foust
SpaceNews Senior Staff Writer

Jeff Foust is a Senior Staff Writer at SpaceNews, a space industry news magazine and website, where he writes about space policy, commercial spaceflight and other aerospace industry topics. Jeff has a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and earned a bachelor's degree in geophysics and planetary science from the California Institute of Technology. You can see Jeff's latest projects by following him on Twitter.