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UA is Top University Contributing to Global Planetary Exploration Research
by Daniel Stolte,
University Communications
Tucson AZ (SPX) May 30, 2011

The UA's leading role in planetary research leads to publications that receive many citations far across the scientific community, including papers from scientists and students who may not themselves be associated with missions.

KinetX Primary Provider of Key Mission Design and Navigation Support For OSIRIS REx
Phoenix AZ (SPX) May 30 - NASA announced a new robotic science mission to be launched in 2016 that will retrieve samples from an asteroid. The mission, called Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-REx, will be the first U.S. mission to carry samples from an asteroid back to Earth. KinetX, Inc., a Tempe, Arizona based private corporation, has partnered with the OSIRIS-REx Principal Investigator, Dr. Michael Drake of the University of Arizona in Tucson, and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center to be the primary provider of deep space mission design and navigation for the mission.

Starting later this year, KinetX will begin participating in the development of the mission and navigation systems that will be implemented and tested by the 2016 launch. After launch, KinetX personnel will perform mission design and navigation operations including trajectory optimization, orbit determination and propulsive maneuver design to guide the spacecraft to a soft touch-down on the asteroid surface in 2020 to collect the sample. KinetX will also provide these services for the return flight to Earth, which begins with departure from the asteroid in 2021 and ends with arrival at Earth in 2023.

KinetX, Inc. is the first commercial entity to provide spacecraft navigation services for NASA interplanetary missions and is currently providing similar mission design and navigation services for two NASA missions: the MESSENGER mission that is currently orbiting the planet Mercury and the New Horizons mission that is on its way to fly by Pluto in 2015.

Thomson Reuters Corporation data shows that only NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the world's top players in spacecraft design, construction, launch and science operations are ahead of UA's planetary sciences with regard to impact in the scientific literature.

The University of Arizona is the top ranked research university for planetary exploration with regard to citations in the scientific literature, according to new data.

UA planetary research articles were quoted more than 10,000 times over the last 10 years, according to ScienceWatch.com, a comprehensive, open Web resource for science metrics.

The analysis was conducted using a Thomson Reuters Corporation database, which includes citations from articles produced by researchers in various countries around the world.

During the survey period, which spanned Jan. 1, 2001 to March 18, 2011, the UA had 579 publications in planetary sciences. Only NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, or JPL, are cited more often than UA in planetary exploration scientific publications.

Placing third behind NASA and JPL means UA closely follows what are the world's largest players in spacecraft design, construction, launch and science operations, according to the Thomson Reuters website.

"The prominence of the UA in the planetary sciences is a tribute to the extraordinary talents of the faculty, support staff and student body in the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory," said Michael Drake, head of the UA's department of planetary sciences and director of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, or LPL.

"These dry statistics mask an even more fundamental point. Only NASA as a whole, an organization with a budget of about $18 billion, and JPL with a budget of about $1.5 billion, outperform the UA," Drake said.

"When one realizes that the budget of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory is only $2.6 million from the state of Arizona, these comparisons become even more stark," Drake added.

Currently, the UA's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory is actively involved in five spacecraft missions: Cassini; the Phoenix Mars Lander; the HiRISE camera orbiting Mars; the MESSENGER mission to Mercury and OSIRIS-REx, the first U.S. sample return mission to an asteroid, which was just selected by NASA.

Orbiting Saturn since 2004, NASA's Cassini Spacecraft has not only deployed a probe, Huygens, onto the surface of Saturn moon Titan, but also studied the Saturn system in great detail, capturing stunning images of the planet, its rings and its moons. Cassini has since detected the first flash of sunlight reflected off a lake on Titan, confirming the presence of liquid on the part of the moon dotted with many large, lake-shaped basins.

The Phoenix Mars Lander confirmed the presence of frozen water on the Martian surface. Meanwhile, HiRISE continues to orbit the Red Planet, delivering stunning photographs of its surface features in great detail.

And launched in April of 2009, the MESSENGER spacecraft recently entered into orbit around Mercury, the innermost planet of our solar system, to commence a year-long campaign of mapping and spectral analysis of the planet's surface and exosphere.

The latest addition to the UA's portfolio of space missions is OSRIS-REx, selected for funding by NASA on May 25.

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will orbit and explore asteroid 1999 RQ36 for more than one year before closing in and collecting a sample of pristine organic material that may have seeded Earth with the building blocks that led to life.

"The UA has been involved in nearly all of the planetary exploration missions over the past 40 years, often including leadership of experiments or entire missions, such as Phoenix and OSIRIS-REx," said Alfred McEwen, professor of planetary geology at LPL and principal investigator of HiRISE.

The UA's leading role in planetary research leads to publications that receive many citations far across the scientific community, including papers from scientists and students who may not themselves be associated with missions.

"A great number of publications that result from our efforts may not even have UA co-authors," McEwen added. "There are many publications based on HiRISE data, all of which is released to anyone who wants to use it."

Other implications of this work are that the UA consistently involves students in planetary science research activities and helps create high paying jobs in Tucson and Arizona, Drake said.

"The citizens of Arizona have much to be proud of for the modest investment of their tax dollars," Drake said, "and we are honored to have the opportunity to be the best we can for Tucson and the state."

earlier related report
NASA Selects UA-Led Mission to Collect Sample From asteroid
Tempe AZ (SPX) May 30 - The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will orbit and explore asteroid 1999 RQ36 for more than a year before closing in and collecting a sample of pristine organic material that may have seeded Earth with the building blocks that led to life.

NASA has selected the University of Arizona to lead a sample-return mission to an asteroid.

The team is led by Michael Drake, director of the UA's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. will manage the mission for NASA. Lockheed Martin will build the spacecraft.

The OSIRIS-REx mission is budgeted for approximately $800 million, excluding the launch vehicle.

The target asteroid - named 1999 RQ36 after the year it was discovered - measures 575 meters (one-third of a mile) in diameter. 1999 RQ36 is a time capsule from the early solar system rich with organic compounds that may have seeded life on Earth.

"OSIRIS-REx will explore our past and help determine our destiny," said Drake. "It will return samples of pristine organic material that scientists think might have seeded the sterile early Earth with the building blocks that led to life. Such samples do not currently exist on Earth. OSIRIS-REx will also provide the knowledge that will guide humanity in deflecting any future asteroid that could collide with Earth, allowing humanity to avoid the fate of the dinosaurs."

OSIRIS-REx stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer.

Scheduled for launch in 2016, the OSIRIS-REx mission will return the first samples ever taken from a special type of asteroid holding clues to the origin of the solar system and likely organic molecules that may have seeded life on Earth.

OSIRIS-REx also will investigate an object potentially hazardous to humanity. 1999 RQ36 has a one-in-1,800 chance of impacting the Earth in the year 2182.

Spending more than a year exploring 1999 RQ36 before acquiring samples, OSIRIS-REx will provide geologic context essential to expanding our understanding of the asteroid-comet continuum. The mission will provide near-live coverage of 1999 RQ36 operations and sample return to Earth. Samples will return to Earth in the year 2023.

The return to Earth of pristine samples with known geologic context will enable precise analyses that cannot be duplicated by spacecraft-based instruments. Pristine carbonaceous materials have never before been analyzed in laboratories on Earth.

The OSIRIS-REx instrument suite will include: the OSIRIS-REx Camera Suite (OCAMS) by the University of Arizona; the OSIRIS REx Visible-Infrared Spectrometer (OVIRS) instrument by NASA Goddard; the OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer (OTES) by Arizona State University; and the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA) by the Canadian Space Agency.

The team includes the University of Arizona, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Lockheed Martin, Arizona State University, KinetX, the Canadian Space Agency, NASA Johnson Space Center, NASA Ames Research Center, NASA Langley Research Center, along with science team members from across academia.

NASA New Frontiers is a program to explore the solar system with frequent, medium-class spacecraft missions that will conduct high-quality, focused scientific investigations designed to enhance our understanding of the solar system.

"OSIRIS-REx will usher in a new era of planetary exploration," said Dante Lauretta, the mission's deputy principal investigator and an associate professor at the UA's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. "For the first time in space-exploration history, a mission will travel to, and return pristine samples of a carbonaceous asteroid with known geologic context. Such samples are critical to understanding the origin of the solar system, Earth, and life."

"OSIRIS-REx will have an extraordinary impact on the University of Arizona and our entire state," said UA President Robert N. Shelton. "For decades, our Lunar and Planetary Laboratory has made immeasurable contributions to our knowledge of the universe. This mission will continue and advance that tradition, with unique opportunities for our students and researchers."

Extensive characterization by the Arecibo Planetary Radar System, the Spitzer Space Telescope, and ground-based telescopes in Arizona and elsewhere have resulted in exceptional knowledge about the asteroid. 1999 RQ36 orbits the sun every 1.2 years, crossing the Earth's orbit every September. Its shape and rotation rate are well known, allowing OSIRIS-REx to make a safe, albeit short, touchdown.

"Our spacecraft will sneak up to RQ36 over the course of weeks," Lauretta said. "Once the two objects are traveling in sync, OSIRIS-REx will extend its sample collector, touch the surface for five seconds, collect well over 60 grams of sample, and get out of there."

Using an injection of ultra pure nitrogen, the OSIRIS-REx sample-collecting device will stir up dirt and small gravel to be captured and sealed for return to Earth. The samples are returned to the surface of the Earth using hardware and procedures successfully demonstrated on the Stardust mission, which returned samples from comet Wild 2 in 2006.

UA planetary science professor William Boynton is the mission instrumentation scientist, and Peter Smith, a professor in the UA's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory and principal investigator on the Phoenix Mars Mission, is the instrument scientist for the three on-board cameras. Heather Enos, project manager for the TEGA instrument on Phoenix, serves as the project planning and control officer. Chris Shinohara, science operations manager for the Phoenix Mission, will perform a similar role for OSIRIS-REx.

All mission science operations will be performed on the UA campus. Anna Spitz from the Mt. Lemmon Sky Center leads the Education and Public Outreach program. In addition to outstanding science and educational opportunities, OSIRIS-REx will provide a significant boost to the Arizona economy; approximately $200 million will be spent in Tucson and across Arizona.

Related Links
Lunar and Planetary Laboratory
Phoenix Mars Lander
MESSENGER mission to Mercury
Space Technology News - Applications and Research

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