/ Modified apr 10, 2014 9:18 a.m.

UA Gets NASA OK to Move Ahead with Mission to Asteroid

Launch of OSIRIS-REx scheduled for 2016, returning in 2023 with soil samples, mapping to explore origins of solar system.

University of Arizona scientists leading a planned NASA mission to an asteroid passed the space agency’s latest mission review this week.

The mission, known as OSIRIS REx, will target an asteroid known as Bennu.

Approval came Thursday after an independent NASA panel review of the mission was completed at Lockheed Martin Space Systems near Denver.

“It’s actually NASA’s chance to come in and tell us how well the design is done," said Richard Kuhns, flight systems manager for Lockheed Martin, which is building the spacecraft. "Do you have enough confidence in the design that they should pay to have it built?”

With the approval, Kuhns said Lockheed Martin moves into construction phase.

“We turn on the build and we start building hardware, stuffing circuit cards, cutting metal, and getting ready to bolt it all together,” he said.

Kuhns said the few requests for changes from the review panel will help get the spacecraft prepared for its scheduled launch in September 2016.

OSIRIS-REx would map the asteroid’s surface and bring a sample back to Earth by 2023. Scientists say the mission will help uncover clues to the origins of the solar system and of life.

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