NASA's OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling mission is on its way. At 7:05 pm EDT, the unmanned probe lifted off atop an Atlas/Centaur booster from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. According to NASA, the liftoff and orbital burns went off without a hitch and the spacecraft is functioning as expected.

OSIRIS-REx began its seven-year mission to the asteroid Bennu without any holds or other problems. After the Atlas first-stage rocket shut down and separated, the Centaur second stage ignited and executed two burns separated by a 22-minute coast phase.

At the end of the second six-minute burn, the deep-space probe separated from the booster as it sped over Australia and headed off into deep space at 25,000 mph (40,000 km/h). At 8:13 pm EDT, mission control confirmed that the solar panels had deployed as planned and the spaceship was under power.

The Origins-Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security REgolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) will rendezvous with the asteroid Bennu (1999 RQ36) in 2018, carry out an extensive survey, and return a 2-oz (60-g) sample of its surface to Earth in 2023. The acronym may seem complicated, but Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator says that, "the mission name is an awesome acronym that describes our primary science objectives."

The purpose of OSIRIS-REx is to study the origins of the Solar System, carry out direct spectral interpretations of the asteroids, identify potential asteroid resources for commercial exploitation, study how to deflect asteroids to improve Earth's security from impacts, and as a regolith explorer to learn more about the loose blanket of gravel and dirt on the asteroid's surface.

The video below outlines the OSIRIS-REx mission.

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