I am the Principal Investigator for the NASA OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Sample Return Mission proof. OSIRIS-REx is a space mission to visit asteroid Bennu, one of the most potentially hazardous near-Earth asteroids. OSIRIS-REx will survey Bennu to assess its impact hazard and resource potential, understand its geologic history, and return a sample to Earth for scientific analysis. We will launch in 2016 and rendezvous with Bennu in 2018. Sample return to Earth occurs in 2023. My job is to lead the OSIRIS-REx team, ensure scientific success, keep us on budget and schedule, and serve as the public face of the mission.

December 9, 2013 is a symbolic milestone for us. At 7:43 pm EST we literally turned on the countdown clock – we are now 999 days away from launch! I am using this milestone to kick off a new public engagement campaign. Our goal is – to make OSIRIS-REx the public’s mission. The Reddit community has played a major role in shaping our strategy – thanks in large part to your responses to our AskReddit thread. You told us the following:

  • Introduce the “characters” of the mission

  • Communicate the engineering of the mission

  • Allow the internet users to contribute their talent

  • Better identify and communicate our achievements regularly, and in a way that is relatable and easy to understand

  • Produce media to entertain and educate you about the mission

Thank you for this valuable input! We have listened to you and developed this plan going forward:

  • Do a Reddit Ask Me Anything

  • Post regular updates featuring the science, engineering, team members, and back stories on my blog at dslauretta.com

  • Develop a new logo – selected via a contest on 99designs.com – with more opportunities to come – merchandise available at osirisrexstore.com

  • Revamp our website and social media – interact with us at asteroidmission.org and on our Facebook and Twitter feeds

  • Produce a series of short videos highlighting key science themes – 321 Science

  • Set up a new company called Xtronaut to facilitate and develop Education and Public Outreach programs associated with the OSIRIS-REx mission

All right Reddit, go ahead and Ask Me Anything!

I will start answering at 9 pm and stop at 11 pm EST.

EDIT Thanks for the great AMA. I am going to bed but will keep answering your questions tomorrow!

EDIT #2 I am back online. I will be answering questions today - in between dealing with my day job.

EDIT #3 Thanks for all the great questions. I am signing off for the day but will check back in the morning to see if any more questions are posted.

Comments: 205 • Responses: 53  • Date: 

friendlygiant9611 karma

What is the plan for extracting the sample from the asteriod?

dslauretta17 karma

We are using a device called the Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM). The basic concept is to contact the asteroid surface with a large air filter (something that would look right at home sitting on top of a carburetor from a '57 Chevy), then blast the surface with a pulse of high-purity nitrogen gas. The gas agitates and fluidizes the regolith, which expands into the TAGSAM device. If we fill the collection chamber - we have ~2 kilograms of material. TAGSAM can collect particles up to 3-cm across. We also have contact pads on the outer edge of TAGSAM. We will collect particles less than 1 millimeter as long as we touch the surface.

Pedroperson10 karma

What's the biggest challenge in designing the reentry capsule? Also could I get an internet high five?

dslauretta20 karma

The good news is that we are reusing the capsule design from the NASA Stardust mission. The only modification that is required is on the main deck to accommodate our sample collection device, which is different from Stardust. This is a minor modification - the SRC is one of the easy parts!

high five

192nausika7 karma

How did you transition from working on chondrite meteorites to the bigger-picture project of being the principal investigator on OSIRIS-REx? -Arecibo radar minion

dslauretta5 karma

When Mike Drake, the original PI for OSIRIS-REx, starting put his team together in 2004, he invited me to be his deputy because of my knowledge of carbonaceous chondrites and the connection to the origin of life. In the seven years of proposal writing between 2004 and selection in 2011 I learned all about spacecraft engineering, mission management, and cost, and schedule control.

AubreyPlazasButtHair7 karma

Does the potential for an asteroid collision worry you on an emotional level?

Also, what's your favorite Christmas song?

dslauretta15 karma

I do not worry about getting hit by an asteroid on a daily basis. It is much more dangerous to cross the street - which I do worry about.

My favorite Christmas is Happy X-mas (War is Over) by John Lennon.

OoohSpaaace7 karma

How do you plan to avoid damage to the spacecraft from regolith that is kicked up by the nitrogen gas but is not captured by TAGSAM?

dslauretta5 karma

Tough question - we are studying this now. Ask me after CDR!

OoohSpaaace1 karma

I see from your blog that CDR has been completed. Is there an answer to my previous question now?

dslauretta1 karma

CDR is scheduled for the first week of April

enbarchon6 karma

I was always curious about the kind of math and calculations that go into launch, and navigation to and from a distant point in space. Is this something that is planned out in advance, or based on feedback and corrections. Do you factor in things like the position of the moon, and what effect its gravity will have on potential flight paths? When returning to the earth how much thought goes into the rotation of the planet with respect to the returning capsule. Dunno, just something I always wondered about.

dslauretta10 karma

When calculating the orbital trajectory of Bennu we include the gravitational effects of the Sun, eight planets, the Moon and Pluto. Perturbing asteroids are also included in the force model.

We developed mutually perturbed trajectories of the four largest asteroids (1 Ceres, 2 Pallas, 4 Vesta and 10 Hygeia - CPVH). We then computed the orbits for the next 12 largest main belt asteroids. The combination of these 12 additions with CPVH formed a perturber list of the 16 most massive asteroids (based on current mass estimates). Finally, we added nine more asteroids, which were selected according to an analysis of which perturbers could most significantly influence the orbit of Bennu.

When Bennu is near the Earth we have to model the gravitational perturbation due to Earth oblateness. We found that unless the effect was included whenever the asteroid is closer than 0.3 AU there is a modest but discernible effect on the orbit determination and propagation.

We used a full relativistic force model including the contribution of the Sun, the planets, and the Moon. The relativistic effects of the Sun are very important. In addition, we found that the Earth's relativistic terms are responsible for a 1.5% (3-sigma) variation because of significant short range effects during Bennu Earth approaches in 1999 and 2005.

Finally, The Yarkovsky effect is a key consideration when fitting an orbit for Bennu. This slight nongravitational acceleration arises from the anisotropic re-emission at thermal wavelengths of absorbed solar radiation. The component of the thermal recoil acceleration in the transverse direction acts to steadily increase or decrease the orbital energy, leading to a drift in semimajor axis that accumulates quadratically with time in the orbital longitude of the asteroid.

The work on Bennu's trajectory was lead by Steve Chesley - a member of our Science Team.

Once we get to Bennu we will use precision radio tracking to refine the orbit even further. Once we have the baseline trajectory understood - we will reevaluate the influence of all of the factors described above.

For the spacecraft - we follow a similar process. We need to account for all of the gravitational influences on its trajectory. We also apply a small-forces model to account for solar-radiation pressure, outgassing, and other such phenomena. We then develop a baseline trajectory using the initial spacecraft state (position and velocity in three dimensions). We then propagate the trajectory forward to estimate where the spacecraft will be as a function of time. As it moves forward in its trajectory we acquire starfield images or track landmarks on the asteroid surface with the camera system. Once these data are downlinked we use that information to reconstruct the trajectory and compare to the baseline plan. Any deviations are then studied to refine our trajectory propagation model.

We definitely worry about the spin state of the Earth when jettisoning the return capsule. We have tight tolerances on when and where we can release it - we have to land within 50 km of our chosen site in the Utah desert.

lobochan6 karma

Any advice for a soon-to-be aerospace engineering graduate? Working for NASA is a career life goal of mine and I'm curious about the general path that the engineers follow. Thanks for this great AMA!

dslauretta9 karma

Most of the engineers that I know work for one of the big aerospace firms. Lockheed Martin has built the majority of recent planetary exploration spacecraft for the United States - I recommend trying to get a job at their facility in Littleton, CO.

Other options include getting on to the staff at one of the major "space-faring" universities like the University of Arizona, the University of Colorado, CalTech, or MIT.

There are many smaller engineering firms that provide components and support to NASA missions like the Southwest Research Institute, the Space Dynamics Lab, or ASC-3D (all contributing to OSIRIS-REx).

Finally, there is the "New Space" companies that are providing services to NASA like SpaceX and Blue Origin.

Good luck!

Universu6 karma

  1. Greetings Dr. Lauretta, i have a few questions, how is 5819 doing and are there plans to probe it too?
  2. How did the idea of a sample return mission from an asteroid came about? What is the inspiration behind it?
  3. Can we not go faster in going to Bennu? Like less than year. What technogy is need to speed up voyage to asteroid?
  4. What is the story behind the name Osiris Rex and its Egyptian theme?
  5. What will happen to Osiris Rex after it return, will it remain in orbit or crash or an extension mission will be planned?
  6. Will you be able to study fragments of the Chelyabinsk meteorite? Why was it not detected earlier? Thanks in advance.

dslauretta10 karma

  1. Asteroid 5819 Lauretta is continuing on its orbital trajectory through the Solar System. My astronomer friends snap a photo for me every once in awhile but there is no plan for a dedicated science campaign.

  2. The OSIRIS-REx concept originated with Lockheed-Martin, who is always looking for new Principal Investigators for their planetary science missions. They approached Mike Drake, the original PI, in 2004 about collaborating on a sample-return mission. Mike invited me to be his Deputy at that time - which I gladly accepted. Mike and I worked on the mission concept for seven years before being accepted by NASA. Mike passed away in September 2011 - four months after winning the contract. I was promoted to PI at that time.

  3. We can go faster to get to Bennu. However, we need to not only get to Bennu - but also go in the same direction at the same speed. Thus, if we get there more quickly, we need giant rocket engines and a lot of fuel to slow down for the rendezvous.

  4. I came up with the name based on the mythology of Osiris as the bringer of life to the Nile Valley - Bennu represents the type of object that may have brought the seeds of life to Earth. It is also a crazy acronym - which fits in with the way NASA names their missions,

  5. OSIRIS-REx will eject the sample return capsule four hours before the spacecraft hits the top of the atmosphere at 27,000 mph. The spacecraft will then perform a deflection burn and be placed into a stable heliocentric orbit that will not intersect any object of astrobiological interest (planetary protection requirement). It may be available for an extended mission at the discretion of NASA.

  6. We have fragments of Chelyabinsk in our lab at the University of Arizona and are actively studying it. It snuck up on us because it came out of the Sun and it was a relatively small object - we are mandated by Congress to detect objects 140-m in diameter and larger - the Chelyabinsk bolide was ~20-m across.

thewerdy6 karma

Awesome work! I'm wondering, how and why was Bennu selected for this mission? Do we know if we will be able to even retrieve a sample from it? (ie: do we know the composition of the surface? Are there enough small rocks on it to collect?) Also, as a current U of A undergraduate (Aerospace Engineering), what's the best way for a student to become involved in this kind of work/field?

dslauretta14 karma

Target selection for OSIRIS-REx was originally driven by engineering constraints. First, we decided to use a Lockheed-Martin heritage spacecraft. That meant using solar power and trying to keep the thermal control system relatively simple. Using solar power limited how far out into the Solar System we could travel - setting a limit of 1.8 AU on the aphelion of the target's orbit. The thermal control limit constrained how close to the Sun we could go - limiting the perihelion of the orbit. Together these two constraints defined the semi-major axis and eccentricity of potential targets.

The next constraint was the total energy of the mission. We needed a target with relatively low delta-V (total change in velocity). We also needed a trajectory that limited the re-entry velocity of the Sample Return Capsule - since we are using a heritage design from the Stardust mission. These parameters limited the inclination of the asteroid orbit to less than 10 degrees.

These orbital constraints rapidly collapsed the number of potential targets to around 200 asteroids. The next constraint was on the size of the object. It turns out that asteroids smaller than ~200 meters tend to be rapid rotators - some spinning once every minute or so. We used absolute magnitude as a proxy for size - dropping the number of potential targets to about 20.

The final criterion was driven by science. We wanted a target that was likely to be rich in carbon and water - a carbonaceous asteroid. Of the twenty or so targets that met our dynamical constraints - only five were known to have low albedo and therefore likely to be carbonaceous. Bennu rose to the top of the list based on the extensive ground-based data set - particularly the fantastic shape model information that had been obtained from the Arecibo and Goldstone Planetary Radar telescopes.

There are three lines of evidence that constrain the average grain size on Bennu. First, in addition to the shape model, the radar astronomy also provided information on the radar polarization ratio. Basically, we transmit a beam with a specific circular polarization and measure how much of the returned energy comes back with the opposite polarization. These data show that the transition to radar roughness occurs at a scale smaller than lowest radar wavelength - 3 cm.

Next, we used the Spitzer space telescope to determine the average thermal inertia of the surface. Lower thermal inertia values mean smaller grain sizes. These data suggest that the average grain size on Bennu is on the order of a millimeter.

Finally, the asteroid shape reveals a prominent ridge at the equator - suggesting that there is loose material moving around on the surface and collecting at the geopotential lows (the valleys of Bennu) - which lie at the equator.

To get involved with OSIRIS-REx - come talk to me!

hpizzle125 karma

Thanks for doing the AMA!

Here is my question:

I am graduating in December with a degree in Mechanical/Nuclear Engineering from an ok-engineering school. Not Ivy League or top 25 in the country. I have an average resume: ok GPA, some work experience, and activities. What can I do after graduation that would impress NASA and get me an interview someday? I would love to work at NASA when I'm older, but how do I make myself stand out over MIT, Standard, and Cornell grads?

Edit - Thanks for all the responses. However, I would like to emphasize that I am graduating this December. Opportunities for me to do research with professors and apply for internships has passed =(. Mainly looking for advice on how to add onto my resume after graduation to impress NASA folks. Work on my own projects? Invent something bad-ass? Gain experience working in a certain industry?

dslauretta3 karma

I suggest a couple of options. If you really have a great idea and are the adventurous type, start a new company to develop your product. Try to get in space as an experimental payload - say on a student CubeSat.

You could also go to work for one of the "New Space" companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, or Planetary Resources - or one of the "Old Space" companies like Lockheed-Martin, Ball Aerospace, or Boeing.

buenhombre265 karma

How long do you think it will take for asteroid mining to become a viable industry?

dslauretta5 karma

The answer really depends on how serious nations are about extending the human presence in space. If the US, China, India, or other agencies really move into space, then an industry centered around supplying life-support materials in situ will have a credible business model.

The idea of returning precious metals to the surface of the Earth is more problematic. We still produce sufficient quantities of platinum, gold, and other rare metals to cover our needs. The law of supply and demand suggests that the supply is adequate. I don't expect this situation to change in the next few decades.

Sir_Tibbles5 karma

oh my, I'm writing an essay about NASA and I cited you in some parts. Now I see this and here you are! no questions to ask just want to say keep up the awe-inspiring awesomeness!!

dslauretta2 karma


youknowwhodamit5 karma

How personally taxing is it to be in charge of a NASA mission?

dslauretta3 karma

It is by far the hardest thing I have ever done. I stay motivated by the knowledge that I will be one of the first people to fly a spacecraft to an asteroid see a new world for the first time - and bring a piece of it back to Earth.

jccwrt5 karma

  1. How do you hope to tie in your investigations at Bennu to those of Dawn at Ceres? If so, what are your plans?

  2. Did your mission engineers take any cues from the Hayabusa probe? What steps are they planning to take to avoid computer glitches during the sample collection phase?

dslauretta9 karma

  1. Ceres is a C-type asteroid - so slightly different spectroscopically from Bennu. However, we will have data that is comparable to the Dawn VIR instrument, so that will be an interesting study. We are more spectrally similar to Pallas - which is a B-type asteroid like Bennu. We have no plans to perform the comparative study - sounds like a great opportunity for a participating scientist!

  2. We have studied the Hayabusa mission intently. Our main take away messages are to 1) allow enough time for the team to thoroughly characterize Bennu before sampling; 2) simulate the descent to the asteroid surface thousands of times before committing to the sampling; 3) perform a series of rehearsals for each stage of the sampling sequence - plan on repeating each step if one does not go according to pan; and 4) fly capable reaction wheels - this failure doomed Hayabusa from the start.

driftpignz5 karma

Thank you for this very awesome and interesting AMA.

What are your thoughts on SpaceX and do you see future space missions involving them using their rocket systems?

dslauretta4 karma

SpaceX is an approved provider of launch vehicles for NASA. I fully expect to see future missions launching on their systems.

rocketwikkit5 karma

I work in aerospace doing stuff like rocket propulsion. I've never stayed at a job for more than three years. How do you stay on one project for a full decade without getting kind of bored?

Do you work on other projects during the quieter times? I know Alan Stern has about fifty projects, in addition to being PI on New Horizons.

dslauretta5 karma

End to end - OSIRIS-REx will consume twenty years of my life. The mission constantly presents new and interesting challenges - and I am always learning something new. The job changes all the time - especially now as we transition from paper engineering to seeing real hardware come in.

I still have a meteorite research group at UA and try to keep up with the latest cosmochemistry research. I am also a father - which presents its own set of challenges and rewards every day.

rocketwikkit2 karma

Hell of a commitment. Have you ever done one of the Antarctic meteor collection expeditions? It's something I'd really like to do.

dslauretta4 karma

I was fortunate enough to be a member of the 2002-2003 Antarctic Search for Meteorites. We wrote a blog while we were out there - you can check it out here.

cocoscho5 karma

Hello Dr. Lauretta, I realize that there are many components to this project, but this question is in regards to the possible presence of the building blocks of life. I have read a few papers discussing the resistance of certain microbes to our most robust antimicrobial techniques (ex. UV light, saline solutions). How would microbiologists recognize pristine extraterrestrial proteins or nucleic acids? How will you keep your clean room clean? --Thank you!

dslauretta8 karma

OSIRIS-REx has a level-1 requirement to return a "pristine" sample of Bennu. We have a pragmatic definition of pristine - which means that no foreign material introduced into the sample will hamper the scientific investigation.

We split our contamination efforts into two categories - Contamination Control and Contamination Knowledge. Contamination Control seeks to minimize the contamination of the sample using prudent and established spacecraft fabrication processes. Contamination Knowledge seeks to document any contamination that may be introduced to the sample. Together we can both keep the sample clean and document any foreign material that is present in the returned sample.

The spacecraft fabrication clean room is a standard Class 10,000 room. The curation facility will be much cleaner - Class 100.

Biks4 karma

How large does an asteroid have to be before its gravity will allow you to land a spacecraft on it, verses just floating next to it?

dslauretta4 karma

The rendezvous with Bennu is an exercise in formation flying. We could anchor ourselves to the surface - similar to the Philae lander on the ESA Rosetta mission - if we wanted extended surface operations.

The acceleration due to gravity on Ceres, the largest asteroid (and a dwarf planet) is ~28 milli-g (1/36 that of the Earth). Having flown on the NASA vomit comet at 5 milli-g I can tell you that this is still a very low acceleration and any spacecraft would likely need some sort of anchoring or propulsion system to remain stable on the surface.

aleowk4 karma

I am a bit ashamed that this is the first time that I hear about this project... It sounds fantastically interesting and I look forward to learn much more about it!

May I ask you, what do you dream of finding in that asteroid? Best case scenario with your wildest fantasies, or if you prefer your most optimistic yet realistic possibility. What would be in your personal opinion and experience the best outcome of this mission?

dslauretta5 karma

I am glad that this AMA has done its job - help spread the word!

The greatest treasure that OSIRIS-REx can obtain, in my opinion, is something incredibly rich in carbon and organic molecules. Organic compounds in meteorites are present at the part-per-million level. I would love to find out that Bennu is one giant extraterrestrial tar ball.

phunnie4 karma

What did you study in school, and what is your degree in? I've always wondered what you have to be educated in to get a job like this.

dslauretta6 karma

My college life is the subject of a recent blog post - here

In summary, I have a B.S. degree from the University of Arizona with a double major in Mathematics and Physics. I also have a B.A. in Japanese, but that was just for fun.

I have a Ph.D. in Earth and Planetary Sciences from Washington University in St. Louis with an emphasis in Geochemistry.

I did my postdoctoral research at Arizona State University, where I learned transmission electron microscopy and mass spectroscopy.

Pudmeister4 karma


dslauretta8 karma

We do not have any system to anchor the spacecraft to the asteroid during sample acquisition. Instead, we have very tight control on the spacecraft state during the descent. We have to contact with an approach velocity of 10 cm/s (+/-2) and a lateral velocity of 0 cm/s (+/-2). The spacecraft can not be rotating about any of its axes. If we hit the surface under these conditions then our momentum will be absorbed by a constant-force spring in the robotic arm. If we start to rotate, the attitude control thrusters will engage to damp out any angular momentum. After five seconds of contact we fire our back-away thrusters and get out of dodge.

These back-away thrusters should be sufficient to unstick us from the surface. In the case where we are totally jammed our only option is to sever the sample head from the arm - but that would mean loss of the sample.

As for the most common household item - the spacecraft has a surprisingly large amount of tape on it! Though, of course, the tape is space qualified.

profsDad4 karma

The Russian meteorite that fell in February has been called a comet, meteor, super bolide and small asteroid. What is your opinion and what is the difference?

dslauretta4 karma

The Chelyabinsk meteorite is an ordinary chondrite meteorite - the most common type of meteorite that lands on Earth. It was definitely a small asteroid - most likely an S-type near-Earth object.

_freethinker_4 karma

What is the 2013-2023 total budget? What part of the budget is already secure? And where does the money come from? Thanks for doing this!

dslauretta5 karma

The total mission budget (2011 - 2025 - including two years to analyze the sample after Earth Return) is $1.05 billion.

Because of the way that the Federal Government operates - the budget is secure through January 15, 2014 - when the current continuing resolution expires. However, we are a high priority for NASA planetary science and have strong support in Congress so we are confident that our funding will continue to be authorized.

The money ultimately comes from the American and Canadian tax payers - thank you!

cocoscho2 karma

But how much money is the actual operating budget? Doesn't the University of Arizona take out a huge chunk? Also, how do you allocate money to the different instrument teams because your group is working with other institutions. Do their budgets come out of your budget? Thanks, from a future P.I.

dslauretta3 karma

The UA charges an indirect cost (IDC) rate of 51.5%. That means that for every dollar of direct cost that I spend at UA - I have to pay an additional 51.5 cents in IDC. These funds cover the cost of the facility, support services like maintenance, and the overall cost of running the University.

Most of our money (something like 80%) goes into our labor expenses (which includes benefits and IDC). OSIRIS-REx is all about the people.

Every organization has an overhead expense, you can't get away from paying this cost. For-profit companies also include award fee as part of their price tag.

cocoscho1 karma

So if your budget is 800 million dollars then did your grant request ~$1,600,000,000 or did you ask for $800,000,000 and you actually get ~$400,000,000 because that does not seem like a lot of money when you consider all of the personnel listed on the OSIRIS-REx team for 10 years and also all of the technology and instrumentation.

dslauretta5 karma

The PI-managed cost cap is $803M. If I paid full IDC on the whole budget I would spend $803M/1.515 = $530M in direct cost and $273M in IDC. We don't pay IDC on capital equipment over $5K or on subcontracts worth more than $25K (though the subcontractor charges their own IDC).

rocketwikkit2 karma

On a lot of agencies SBIRs we're limited to 40% IDC. The UA got a good deal.

Also the first time I've seen the finer points of federal contracting discussed on here.

dslauretta4 karma

One of the most unexpected results of becoming PI for me - I have to know everything about the federal budget process and cost management. Ask away!

hedwig84 karma

as firing of the rockets that will deliver the payload depends on a lot of factors weather, malfunctioning... etc... what is the time frame(the number of days that the launch can be delayed) you can change the schedule launch if there is a problem and still reach the asteroid... is this event factored in your calculation??

and thanks for doing the AMA,,,, science ftw

dslauretta7 karma

We have a 39-day launch window that opens on September 3, 2016. Right now we are designing to a 30-minute opportunity each day. However, we have some extra capability on the launch vehicle so we may open up the daily window to two hours.

If we don't make the window in 2016. We have to wait one year for another launch opportunity in September 2017. Our current budget is not sufficient to cover such an extended slip - we have to no choice but to make the 2016 window!

Moorehossthanyou4 karma

I heard something about how this mission could help us understand how moons are formed. Can you expand on that? What is your plan after the O-Rex mission is finished? Do you think you'll participate in any other missions?

I also just wanted to say you look like Mr. Fantastic from Fantastic 4. That is meant to be a compliment. Now I hope you never find out who I am. :D

dslauretta5 karma

As for Mr. Fantastic - I am fortunate enough to be married to someone who looks like Sue Storm!

dslauretta5 karma

OSIRIS-REx will help us understand how asteroid satellites are formed. A leading theory for binary asteroid formation involves the YORP effect. Basically, YORP acts to either increase or decrease the rotation rate of an asteroid. As an asteroid's spin rate increases - material will start to migrate from the poles down to the equator. This mechanism may be responsible for the observed equatorial ridge on Bennu. If the spin rate continues to increase - the material may be spun off the equator and accrete into a binary companion.

This work was pioneered by Kevin Walsh, a member of my science team.

gthcrvn4 karma

Am i going to get to be an asteroid miner or should I start focusing on getting my son ready to be an asteroid miner?

dslauretta3 karma

You can make a good living hunting meteorites - a form of asteroid mining. Your son probably has a better chance of a career on the Asteroid Frontier.

hardyharrr3 karma

Once you get the sample from the asteroid, what are you planning to do with it?

dslauretta5 karma

Distribute it around the world to any qualified laboratory to analyze in support of our science objectives.

eeeBs3 karma

What's your favorite asteroid movie?

dslauretta10 karma

Tie between The Little Prince and The Empire Strikes Back - just kidding!

The best one so far is Hayabusa

AskSkeeves3 karma

Hey Dr. Lauretta! Super excited for this. Where is OSIRIS-REx launching from, where will it return, and what parts will be discarded in between?

dslauretta7 karma

OSIRIS-REx is launching from the Kennedy Space Center on an Atlas V 411 launch vehicle in 2016. The sample return capsule (SRC) returns to the Utah Test and Training Range in 2023. The SRC will remain intact through atmospheric entry with the exception of a small amount of the heat shield - which will ablate in the atmosphere. The main spacecraft will remain in space and likely be available for an extended mission. The SRC ultimately ends up in the NASA Space-Exposed Hardware facility - or maybe in the Smithsonian like the Stardust capsule!

CuriousMetaphor3 karma

Are you collaborating with the possible asteroid retrieval/redirect mission?

dslauretta8 karma

OSIRIS-REx is a PI-led mission in the New Frontiers Program, part of the NASA Science Mission Directorate. ARRM is a proposed mission in the Human Exploration program. We are not directly involved but I have offered to help ARRM. They just need to ask!

Universu1 karma

Do you have a suggestion on which asteroid is the best candidate for retrieval?

dslauretta3 karma

EDIT I like 2006 RH120 - might have migrated in and out of the Earth-Trojan population.

jkidd081 karma


dslauretta1 karma

Yes, thanks for the correction

YNot19893 karma

So how long do you give before the program is cancelled?

dslauretta3 karma

All major contracts are in place - and flight hardware items have been procured. This means that there is little money to save by cancelling the program. Also, we have strong support at NASA HQ and in Congress so I feel good about the funding line. The wild card is always the Congressional appropriation process. . .

Kanthes3 karma

Do you, or anyone in your team play Kerbal Space Program? What are your thoughts on the game and how it affects interest in orbital mechanics and space-travel?

dslauretta4 karma

I am a huge fan of KSP. I play it on my own and with my two sons. I also use it as a teaching tool. Together with other staff members from OSIRIS-REx i lead an after school science club at a local Boys and Girls Club. I set up a screen and projector and have the kids help me build and fly different spacecraft designs. I find it to be a great way to convey basic orbital mechanics to middle and grade schoolers. I could really use a more education-centered version of the program so the younger kids could play it one their own more easily.

My project scientist has designed and flown an OSIRIS-REx like mission to Minimus. Many of the software engineers in our Science Operations and Processing Center are also Kerbal fanatics.

music993 karma

Does your mission have any correlation with NASA's plan to capture an asteroid and have it orbit the moon?

dslauretta5 karma

OSIRIS-REx is developing key technologies that are applicable to any asteroid mission including

  • Astronomical characterization in support of mission design
  • Measurement of asteroid global characteristics
  • Detailed characterization of an asteroid surface at sub-cm scales
  • Mission-critical data processing and analysis on a tactical timeline
  • Accurate navigation in microgravity
  • Delivery to a specific location on the asteroid surface
  • Successful contact and acquisition of material from an asteroid surface

We have no direct connection to the Asteroid Redirect Mission.

enelson19913 karma

A lot of questions seem to be focusing on how you will get the asteroid back, what I am curious about is how you guys plan on getting your payload to the asteroid itself.

dslauretta6 karma

I answered this question in a recent blog post

Here is the relevant section

In order to rendezvous with Bennu, OSIRIS-REx will leave the surface of the Earth on an Atlas V rocket in the 411 configuration. The Atlas V rocket uses a Russian-built RD-180 engine burning kerosene and liquid oxygen to power its first stage and an American-built RL10 engine burning liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen to power its Centaur upper stage. The 411 configuration adds a single strap-on solid booster rocket to the first stage.

The Atlas V rocket will launch OSIRIS-REx with a hyperbolic escape velocity of 5.4 km/s (over 12,000 mph). Once in space, OSIRIS-REx will perform a series of Deep Space Maneuvers, changing velocity by another 0.52 km/s (1,163 mph). These maneuvers, combined with an Earth-gravity assist one year after launch, will send OSIRIS-REx on a trajectory to rendezvous with Bennu.

Asteroid rendezvous requires not only being in the same place at the same time but also moving at the same speed and in the same direction. OSIRIS-REx will perform a series of braking maneuvers, slowing down by 0.53 km/s (1,186 mph), resulting in a relative approach velocity of 20 cm/s (~0.45 mph).

enelson19914 karma

Very cool. I remember talking with one of the engineers who built the Curiosity rover, he said that touchdown was probably one of the most stressful parts of that mission for him.

dslauretta8 karma

I have five "moments of terror" on OSIRIS-REx. The first is launch, even though it is pretty routine, we still strapping our lovingly crafted spacecraft on top of thousands of pounds of explosives. The second is when we get the first resolved image of Bennu - we have been designing a mission to a target that, for the most part, we have only seen as a point of light. The third moment is TAG, when we send the spacecraft down to the surface of Bennu to collect the sample. The fourth is Earth return - the equivalent of the Curiosity landing (though not nearly as complicated). The final moment is opening of the SRC - after twenty years of development, build, and operations, I will finally know whether the mission succeeded!

jcabello2 karma


dslauretta2 karma

The OSIRIS-REx team is spread all over the world. I am a Professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson. We have ~100 people working on the project here. The main workforce is at the Lockheed-Martin facility in Littleton, Colorado - where they are building the spacecraft, including the sample acquisition mechanism and the sample return capsule. The third major partner is the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. GSFC is responsible for Project Management, Systems Engineering, Safety and Mission Assurance, as well as the visible and infrared spectrometer (OVIRS). Our other main partners are Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, KinetX Aerospace (the Simi Valley, California office), the Canadian Space Agency, the French Space Agency (CNES), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the United Launch Alliance.

Ultimately, the samples will end up at the Astromaterials Curation Facility at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. The science team is spread all over the United States and also includes members from Canada, France, Italy, and the UK.

Autorotator2 karma

When and where can I sign up to go work on an asteroid mine/factory?

Am I too early for that? OK I brought a tent and a sleeping bag. I'll wait.

dslauretta5 karma

Planetary Resources is accepting job applications.

jasperjones222 karma

So, I've been badgered to come over here by a friend of mine posting on FB. But, as it is, I'll try and figure out a question.

Mining of asteroids has been an idea for a long time to increase resources. Does this project have any aims to pursue that avenue?

Also, as a research assistant for a genetics lab I am wondering how odd it is to run a project with a 10 year wait for data collection (4 years bugged me personally)

dslauretta3 karma

Part of the OSIRIS-REx acronym is Resource Identification. The most direct application of our mission to asteroid mining is in the technologies and proximity operations that allow you maneuver a spacecraft around a small asteroid.

I think of OSIRIS-REx as a proof of concept - a demonstration that you can send a spacecraft to an asteroid, collect material, and return it Earth. Now we just have to scale it to an industrial process.

TheKevinShow2 karma

As an Arizona alumnus, I'd like to start by saying Bear Down, but I do have a serious question: how do you feel the university setting benefits your work? Arizona's reputation as a center of planetary science speaks for itself but I'd really like to read your perspective.

dslauretta5 karma

A University setting is a great place for a NASA mission. I started my career in the NASA Space Grant program at UA. It is very gratifying to be able to recruit the next generation of space scientists and engineers from my Alma mater.

We also have access to a wide range of student talents - including graphic arts, videography, business management, etc.

cocoscho2 karma

Will researchers from other institutions write grant proposals to obtain some meteorite sample for analysis or is there already a designated group at the UA that will analyze the sample? --Thanks

dslauretta6 karma

The samples will be available to any qualified researcher from around the world. Our plan is to spend the first six months producing a catalog of the returned sample. Once we publish this document, NASA will start accepting proposals for sample distribution.

rocketwikkit2 karma

Thanks for doing an AMA. Do you think OSIRIS-REx is the most complex backronym currently operating at Nasa? :-)

dslauretta6 karma

OSIRIS-REx is both an acronym and backronym. I came up with OSIRIS when we first starting proposing this mission concept to the NASA Discovery program. I was the Deputy PI and my job was to write the science justification for the mission. I started doodling with the key science concepts and wrote down Origins, Spectroscopy, Resources, and Security. OSIRIS jumped right out at me! I then added some vowels to fill out the word.

We added the REx when we made the transition from Discovery to New Frontiers. Our previous proposal efforts had scored well - but we did not fit in the cost box. We wanted to keep the OSIRIS brand name but indicate that we were bigger and better than a Discovery mission. The name OSIRIS-REx was tossed out early on - sort of in jest - but the name had a nice ring to it. I came up with Regolith Explorer to back into the name.

HD209458b1 karma

Hi Dante! Thanks for doing the AMA!

What inspired you to get into astronomy and how did you get to where you are now?

You still have yet to buy the O-REx themed Bratfest shirt....

dslauretta7 karma

For my back story - read my blog post here

wanttobeacop1 karma

What is the chance of the asteroid hitting Earth?

dslauretta1 karma

Our most recent calculations show that the cumulative impact probability is ~1 in 3000, leading to a cumulative Palermo Scale of -1.70.

mullethippie961 karma

If there were a return trip to the moon would all the safety precautions from Apollo still be in place for a sample return since there is no life on the moon, or would the small presence of water demand that everything be triple vacuum sealed in a safe container Also what kind of tests do they do with the sample other then test for water,life, and age?

dslauretta1 karma

The Moon is designated Category V - Unrestricted Earth Return for Planetary Protection purposes. It has no potential for indigenous life forms and no special precautions are needed for sample return. Our target asteroid Bennu is also Category V - Unrestricted Earth Return.

BearDown19831 karma

What is the plan if you get to the asteroid and it turns out to be an S-Type?

dslauretta6 karma

Get a sample and bring it home.