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Asteroid and Spacecraft: NASA Craft For Bennu Trip In Testing [VIDEO]

Oct 22, 2015 01:43 PM EDT

In advance of a NASA trip to the asteroid Bennu (formerly called 1999 RQ36) scheduled to depart from Earth late in 2016, the air and space engineering company Lockheed Martin has finished assembling the space agency's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. Now the craft is in the midst of environmental testing near Denver, according to a release.

The 2016 mission will be the first one by the United States to gather samples from an asteroid and return them to Earth. OSIRIS-REx stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer. Regolith, by the way, is unconsolidated rocky material covering bedrock on any planet, moon or on Earth, as the release confirmed.

Bennu is an asteroid that contains much carbon and might give clues to our solar system's history, as NASA noted in a release.

During the testing, the new spacecraft will experience tests simulating space's vacuum, movement and tough temperatures, among others, the Lockheed Martin release noted.

The craft will likely launch in September 2016, travel to Bennu, and gather a 2.1-ounce rock sample to study. Because the asteroid travels in an elliptical path, Bennu is between 62,000 and 1.8 million miles from Earth. Reaching the asteroid will take about two years; if all occurs according to plan, the craft will return by 2023, as PBS News Hour confirmed here.

Scientists at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center will manage the mission, its systems engineering and safety. This will be the third mission in the New Frontiers Program, as NASA confirmed.

More on the planned trip to Bennu is below:

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