ASU and UofA work on asteroid exploration mission

It's a big day at Arizona State University as the school unveils the first space instrument built entirely on the ASU campus.

ASU and the University of Arizona are playing an important role in this billion dollar mission with NASA.

It may not look impressive, but the Osiris Rex Thermal Emission Spectrometer in the clean room at ASU is a huge deal.

"Very few universities in the country have the ability to build NASA space flight hardware, the UofA and ASU," said 

The UofA is leading the NASA mission to collect samples from a near-earth asteroid.

ASU engineers and scientists spent over four years building OTES at the School of Earth and Space Exploration on the Tempe campus.

Scheduled to launch in 2016, OTES's job once it is in the spacecraft, and approaching the near-Earth asteroid Bennu, is to map the makeup and chemistry of the asteroid.

"These type of spectrometers allow us to make very educated guesses of where we want to go on the surface, so we collect the optimal sample to bring back to Earth. So this is a research tool," said Greg Mehall.

Scientists hope asteroid samples that are not due back to Earth until 2023 will lead to answers not only about planet formation, but about the origin of life.

"It should be groundbreaking information, no one has ever studied this asteroid in this type of detail, and ASU and UofA are playing a huge role in that investigation," said Mehall.

In two days, the roughly 14-pound instrument will be shipped to Lockheed-Martin in Denver where it will be tested again. 
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