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MIT’s REXIS instrument a key component of asteroid-bound NASA spacecraft by Rebecca Masterson

In the early 2000s, NASA announced its New Frontiers program: a series of missions to explore planets, comets, and other Solar System bodies.

OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer) is one such New Frontiers mission, launched on September 8, 2016. The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will travel through interplanetary space for 2.5 years to rendezvous with the near-Earth asteroid, Bennu. The spacecraft will make a reconnaissance study of the roughly 492 meter (1,614 foot) diameter asteroid using a suite of instruments, select a sampling site, take a sample of the asteroid regolith, and return the sample to Earth.

One of the five instruments mounted on the spacecraft’s instrument deck is REXIS, the REgolith X-ray Imaging Spectrometer. REXIS is unique among the instrument suite because it was designed and built by undergraduate and graduate students at MIT and Harvard University. It is an X-ray spectrometer that will study the X-rays fluoresced by Bennu in response to the impinging solar wind. By measuring the energies of the emerging X-rays REXIS measurements will reveal the elemental composition of the asteroid and map elemental abundance variability across the asteroid’s surface. REXIS is the first application of X-ray coded-aperture imaging to planetary surface mapping, and will be a pathfinder toward future planetary exploration.

Rendezvous with Rexis


MIT AeroAstro annual magazine 2015-2016Aeroastro 2015 16  

Annual magazine review of MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics Department research and educational initiatives.

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