NASA to Launch First Asteroid Sample Mission

nasa asteroid mission space OSIRIS
OSIRIS-REx will travel to near-Earth asteroid Benn on a sample return mission. NASA

NASA has announced it will launch a spacecraft next month to return an Asteroid sample to Earth for the first time.

The space agency said that the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (ORIRIS-REx) spacecraft will lift off on September 8 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, headed for the near-Earth Bennu asteroid.

"This mission exemplifies our nation's quest to boldly go and study our solar system and beyond to better understand the universe and our place in it," said Geoff Yoder, acting associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

"NASA science is the greatest engine of scientific discovery on the planet and OSIRIS-REx embodies our directorate's goal to innovate, explore, discover, and inspire."

The ORIRIS-REx is expected to reach Bennu in 2018 and return to Earth in 2023 with between 2 and 70 ounces of surface material collected with its robotic arm.

The announcement comes a week after a private space mining company revealed plans to send an asteroid prospector into space by 2020, making it the first commercial mining mission beyond Earth's orbit.

Californian startup Deep Space Industries (DSI) aims to eventually harvest and supply resources for the burgeoning space economy with its Prospector craft.

"Deep Space Industries has worked diligently to get to this point, and now we can say with confidence that we have the right technology, the right team and the right plan to execute this historic mission," said Rick Tumlinson, co-founder of DSI.

"Prospector-1 is not only the first commercial interplanetary mission, it is also an important milestone in our quest to open the frontier. By learning to 'live off the land' in space, Deep Space Industries is ushering in a new era of unlimited economic expansion."