spaceSpace and Physics

Watch Live As NASA Launches A Mission To Nibble An Asteroid Today


Jonathan O'Callaghan

Senior Staff Writer

OSIRIS-REx on the Atlas V ready to launch. NASA/Kim Shiflett

Today at 7.05pm EDT (00.05am BST tomorrow), NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission will launch from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral in Florida on an Atlas V rocket, and you can catch all the action live on NASA TV, which we've embedded below. Coverage begins at 5.30pm EDT (10.30pm BST).

If the launch goes to plan, OSIRIS-REx will begin its journey to the asteroid 101955 Bennu. It’s scheduled to arrive in August 2018, when it will then map the surface for two years. Then, in July 2020, it will hover meters away from the asteroid, extend a robotic arm, and collect a sample of at least 60 grams (0.1 pounds).


After leaving the asteroid in March 2021, that sample will be returned to Earth in a capsule in September 2023 for scientists to study. It's hoped the sample may contain ice and organics, and it should give us an insight into the early Solar System. It will be the largest sample returned to Earth since the Apollo missions, and the first American mission to return a sample from an asteroid.

As for the launch timeline, the Atlas V will jettison its side boosters about 2 minutes and 19 seconds after, the main engine will cut off around 4 minutes and 3 seconds, and the second stage of the rocket will separate from the main body around 4 minutes and 9 seconds.

At 4 minutes and 27 seconds, the nose cone will jettison and OSIRIS-REx will be exposed to the vacuum of space for the first time. After picking up speed from the second stage, the spacecraft will then separate to begin its lone voyage about 55 minutes and 39 seconds after launching.

All in all, it’s going to be rather exciting, so make sure you tune in.


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