The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket comprises a first-stage booster, a Centaur upper stage and a protective payload fairing that houses the spacecraft during the critical early minutes of flight.
The Atlas V vehicle is available in several configurations, but the one poised to launch OSIRIS-REx is an Atlas V 411: it’s topped by a 4-meter fairing, and has only one solid rocket booster and one Centaur engine. The 411 configuration has flown three times before, but OSIRIS-REx will be its first launch with a NASA payload.
Tonight’s liftoff and the 13th time an Atlas V launched a NASA spacecraft, the 65th launch of an Atlas V overall.
“NASA has a terrific record flying on the Atlas V,” NASA Launch Director Tim Dunn said Tuesday.
“We’ve successfully launched 12 missions on this rocket: missions to Pluto, Jupiter, the moon, the sun, the radiation belts, three spacecraft to Mars — and now, the asteroid Bennu.”
Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett