Skip to main content

Behind-the-scenes peek: How to build a deep-space instrument for NASA mission

PBS to air documentary Friday about 1st space instrument to be built entirely at ASU, now on its way to asteroid Bennu

February 22, 2017

On Sept. 8, 2016, NASA and Arizona State University embarked on a new space mission, OSIRIS-REx. Now on its way to a rendezvous with the near-Earth asteroid Bennu, the spacecraft carries a number of important scientific instruments, including OTES, the OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer.

“Project Asteroid: Mapping Bennu” is a 30-minute program that documents the construction of OTES, the first space instrument to be built entirely on the ASU campus. It airs on Arizona PBS (channel 8.1) on Feb. 24 at 7:30 p.m.

The program, in the making since 2012, takes viewers behind the scenes as it follows the efforts of a team of engineers and scientists led by the School of Earth and Space Exploration's Philip Christensen.

A Regents' Professor of geological sciences, Christensen is the designer and principal investigator for OTES, which was "born" in the laboratories, workshops, and cleanroom of SESE's home, Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building 4 on the Tempe campus.

Christensen and his colleagues are no strangers to space exploration, having played a critical role in mapping the surface of Mars. To build OTES, he reassembled key members of his Mars team and added new members as well, including several outstanding ASU students.

“Project Asteroid: Mapping Bennu” follows the OTES team as they count down to the mission launch date. The program also profiles selected team members, who give their personal perspectives of the challenges and rewards of this high-stakes undertaking.

View a preview here.

Top photo: Engineers William O'Donnell (left) and Greg Mehall prepare the completed OTES instrument for shipment to NASA. When OTES arrives in 2018 at target asteroid Bennu on NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, it will map Bennu's mineralogy and surface temperature. This data will help mission scientists choose a site to collect a surface sample to be returned to Earth in 2023. Photo by Philip Christensen/ASU 

More Science and technology


Large exoplanet orbiting a star.

ASU researchers contribute to groundbreaking discovery on exoplanet formation

A team of astronomers have discovered the small exoplanet GJ 3470 b shrouded in a surprising yellow haze of sulfur dioxide, making the planet a prime opportunity for scientists trying to understand…

Digital rendering of the bacteria salmonella.

ASU researchers gain insight into how a deadly strain of salmonella fine-tunes its infection tactics

Disease-causing microbes have evolved sophisticated strategies for invading the body, flourishing in often hostile environments and evading immune defenses. In a new study, Professor Cheryl…

Solar panels with a blue sky and white clouds in the background.

ASU researcher clarifies rapid glass-formation process with wide-ranging applications

Glass is formed by vapor deposition through a process in which vaporized material is condensed onto a substrate, layer by layer, to create a solid glass film. This method involves heating the source…