UArizona receives $2 million in support of space programs

Rendering of OSIRIS-REx

The University of Arizona has received a very generous gift from a graduate: $2 million to advance UArizona’s space exploration. 

The university said $1.5 million will be used to purchase a nanoscale secondary ion mass spectrometer, an instrument that those at the UArizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory will use to study samples from the solar system. 

Last October, UArizona led a mission with NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to collect a sample from the asteroid Bennu. 

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is expected to return to Earth in September 2023, touching down at the Utah Test and Training Range. The spacecraft will go to NASA’s Johnson Space Center for initial identification and processing. From there, the samples will make their way to UArizona, and a team led by Dante Lauretta, a professor of planetary sciences and principal investigator of OSIRIS-REx, and Jessica Barnes, an assistant professor of planetary sciences and a collaborating sample scientist, will begin detailed analysis of the samples.

Lauretta said in a UArizona statement that the goal is to explore the solar system’s past and secure its future. 

Barnes also said that she expects the nanoscale secondary ion mass spectrometer to provide a wealth of information over many years.

“Depending on how much material we brought back from Bennu, scientists and students could be analyzing those materials a decade or even two or three decades into the future,” Barnes said.

The other $500,000 of the donation will support UArizona’s role in the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) project. The project is part of the U.S. Extremely Large Telescope Program. 

The same donor gave $1 million last summer to support UArizona researchers getting more time to use the GMT when it’s completed and begins operations in the Atacama Desert in Chile.