Canada, say "OLA" to an asteroid

Artist's concept of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft approaching Asteroid 1999 RQ36

Artist's concept of the Origins-Spectral Identification-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft approaching Asteroid 1999 RQ36. Without landing, the robotic arm on board will scoop up a sample that will be returned to Earth. (Credit: NASA/NGSFC/UA)

Launch: 2016
Status: In development

A Canadian laser will make a 3D map of an asteroid and sleuth out the best sample site for NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission

Overview of OSIRIS-REx

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) is collaborating with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for OSIRIS-REx, the first US mission to study an asteroid and return a sample to Earth. The mission will help answer fundamental questions about how our solar system formed, how life began and how we can avoid asteroid impacts with Earth. OSIRIS-REx will also give us a better understanding of one of the most potentially hazardous asteroids currently known to humanity. OSIRIS-REx also marks the first time the CSA is part of an international sample-return mission.

Scheduled for launch in September 2016, the OSIRIS-REx mission (short for Origins-Spectral Identification-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer) will take about two years to zero in on its target—Asteroid 1999 RQ36. OSIRIS-REx will carry five science instruments that will map the asteroid in visible, infrared and x-ray wavelengths, with the Canadian instrument, OLA (short for the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter), measuring its surface materials and topography. When OSIRIS-REx reaches the asteroid in 2018, OLA will spend nearly 6 months mapping the entire surface to learn more about its history, composition and morphology. Mission scientists will then choose a location for the spacecraft to sample. OSIRIS-REx will lower itself down towards the surface and—without landing—extend its robotic arm and use a Touch-and-Go Sampler to grasp over 60 g of the fine gravel, dust and surface material (known as regolith) covering the asteroid. The sample return capsule will then make the return trip to Earth, touching down in the desert of Utah in 2023.

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

Meet the international OSIRIS-REx team.