| CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., April 10
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., April 10 A NASA mission to
pluck samples from a distant asteroid and return them to Earth
passed a major technical review, clearing engineers to begin
building the robotic spacecraft, officials said on Thursday.
The $800 million mission, known as OSIRIS-Rex, is targeted
for launch in September 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force
Station in Florida.
The spacecraft would rendezvous with asteroid 1999 RQ36,
nicknamed Bennu, two years later for mapping and surveys, then
use a robotic arm to collect samples for return in 2023.
Scientists are keenly interested in studying what minerals
and chemicals the asteroid contains. Similar asteroids crashing
into early Earth are believed to have provided the organic
materials and water needed for life to form.
"This is a pioneering effort, both technologically and
scientifically," lead scientist Dante Lauretta, with the
University of Arizona in Tucson, said in a statement.
An independent review panel completed a comprehensive
technical assessment of the mission, clearing prime contractor
Lockheed Martin Corp to begin building the spacecraft,
flight instruments and ground system, the company said in a
"The OSIRIS-Rex team has consistently demonstrated its
ability to present a comprehensive mission design that meets all
requirements within the resources provided by NASA," Lauretta
NASA in August signed a separate $183.5-million contract
with United Launch Services for an Atlas 5 rocket and related
flight services for OSIRIS-Rex. United Launch Services, along
with sister company United Launch Alliance, which markets to the
U.S. military, is a partnership of Lockheed Martin and Boeing Co
(Editing by Eric Walsh)