Canada's Contribution to the OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Mission

Canada has been selected as NASA's sole international partner for the Origins-Spectral Identification-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx), the first U.S. mission to return a sample from an asteroid to Earth that will better explain our solar system's formation and how life began. The data collected will also help our understanding of asteroids that could impact Earth. OSIRIS-REx marks the first time Canada takes part in an international mission to return an extraterrestrial sample to Earth.

Overview of the mission

Under the OSIRIS-REx mission, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) will launch a spacecraft to an asteroid in 2016 and use a robotic arm to retrieve samples of material. OSIRIS-REx is part of NASA's New Frontiers Program, which will explore the solar system with frequent, medium-class spacecraft missions that conduct high-quality, focused scientific investigations. NASA is investing $800 million in the 14-year mission (excluding the launch vehicle).

OSIRIS-REx will be launched in September 2016, and will encounter the asteroid in 2018. It will then study the asteroid for about 6 months, globally mapping the surface from a distance of 7 km down to 250 m. The sample will be returned to Earth in 2023.

The OSIRIS-REx Mission is led by Principal Investigator Dante S. Lauretta of The University of Arizona, supported by a science team of 40 Co-Investigators, with project management at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and development partnership with Lockheed Martin Space Systems.

OSIRIS-REx's Destination: Asteroid 1999 RQ36

The target asteroid, Near-Earth Object (NEO 101955) 1999 RQ36, is an exciting and accessible volatile and organic-rich remnant from the early Solar System, as well as one of the most potentially hazardous asteroids known to humanity. Observations using telescopes have revealed that 1999 RQ36 is very dark. Scientists have classified it as a B-type asteroid, a rare subgroup of the dark, carbonaceous C-type asteroids. These asteroids are considered to be primitive objects, having changed little from their time of formation.

Carbonaceous asteroids like 1999 RQ36 are the direct remnants of the original building blocks of the terrestrial planets. The presence of complex organics in primitive meteorites has led to speculation that similar meteorites from asteroids seeded the early Earth with the building blocks of life. Their chemical and physical nature, distribution, formation, and evolution are fundamental to understanding planet formation and the origin of life.

Canada's Contribution

OSIRIS-REx marks the first time Canada participates in an asteroid mission - providing our highly-skilled scientists with access to new materials to research. It is investments in projects like this that ensure critical economic sectors, like our space sector, can continue to create jobs, growth and long-term prosperity for Canadians.

Through funding from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), Canada is contributing the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA), an advanced lidar (Light Detection and Ranging) system that is a hybrid of the lidar on the Phoenix Mars Lander's Canadian weather station and an instrument flown on the 2005 US Air Force eXperimental Satellite System-11 (XSS-11). OLA will scan the entire surface of the asteroid to create a highly accurate, 3D model of the asteroid, which will provide mission scientists with fundamental and unprecedented information on the asteroid's shape, topography, surface processes and evolution.

OLA uses a receiver and two complementary lasers to provide the information beamed back to Earth. OLA's high-energy laser transmitter will be used for scanning from further distances (1-7.5 km from the surface of the asteroid). The low-energy laser will be used for rapid imaging at shorter distances (500 m to 1 km) to contribute to a global topographic map of the asteroid, as well as local maps to assist scientists select the best sites for sample collection.

As the prime contractor for OLA, MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) is designing, building and testing the instrument for the CSA. The Principal Investigator for the Canadian science team is led by Dr. Alan Hildebrand of the University of Calgary. Dr. Michael Daly from York University is the OLA instrument scientist. The team also includes researchers from University of Winnipeg, University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia.

The successful completion of the Laser Altimeter will further enhance Canada's competitiveness in space robotics, a key sector of our economy and will provide the Canadian scientific community with its first-ever access to an asteroid sample. The development of this technology will position Canadian industry well to pursue future space and non-space opportunities.

With Canada's contribution to this important and groundbreaking project, the Government of Canada is supporting high-quality jobs for the men and women of the Canadian space industry.