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Asteroid-bound spacecraft gets its first scientific instrument

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NASA has begun attaching scientific instruments to the OSIRIS-REx probe, just over a year before it starts making its way to asteroid Bennu. The first instrument to arrive at Lockheed Martin's HQ is Arizona State University's microwave-sized device called OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer or OTES. It's designed switch on shortly after the spacecraft begins its two-year journey to Bennu, and to take the near-Earth asteroid's temperature every two seconds once it arrives. The instrument, which has undergone development and testing these past few years, will also scan the celestial body's surface to map minerals and chemicals.

OTES is but one of the five instruments that the team is slated to install aboard the OSIRIS-REx before it takes off in September 2016. There's also the OSIRIS-REx Camera Suite (OCAMS) built by a team from the University of Arizona, which will use its three cameras to image Bennu as the spacecraft approaches. The Canadian Space Agency, on the other hand, developed the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA), which will be in charge of producing local and global topographic maps of the asteroid.

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center created the OSIRIS-REx Visible and Infrared Spectrometer (OVIRS), in order to detect water and organics by measuring infrared and visible light from the NEA. Finally, an MIT and Harvard student-faculty collab's brainchild called the Regolith X-ray Imaging Spectrometer (REXIS) will map elements on the surface of Bennu. OSIRIS is scheduled to reach its target in 2018, run tests, observe the asteroid and grab a sample to bring back to Earth by 2023. NASA's hoping the mission can answer some of its questions, including how energy from the sun affects an asteroid's trajectory -- and how life on Earth began.

[Image credit: Symeon Platts/UA]

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