OSIRIS-REx closes in on Bennu, begins approach phase with first asteroid snapshot

The first image of Bennu, seen as a small point of light, was captured by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft at a distance of 2.2 million kilometers. Throughout its approach phase, OSIRIS-REx will gradually get closer to the asteroid and send more images back to Earth. (Credit: NASA)

After traveling toward asteroid Bennu for nearly two years, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has officially begun its approach phase.

On NASA released the first snapshot of Bennu, taken at a distance of 2.2 million kilometers, equivalent to six times the distance between the Earth and the Moon.

Over the next four months, OSIRIS-REx will fly ever closer to Bennu while returning more images of the asteroid to Earth.

The spacecraft will begin the mission's asteroid science operations in . For approximately one year, Canadian instrument OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA) will map Bennu's surface to create a 3D map that will help scientists choose a sample site.

OSIRIS-REx is Canada's first participation in an asteroid sample-return mission. In exchange for providing OLA, Canada will receive a portion of the collected sample, enabling Canadian science for generations to come.

OSIRIS-REx aces its first instrument check!


Credits: NASA / Goddard

Approximately two weeks following its launch, OSIRIS-REx's five science instruments, including Canada's OLA, were powered up and operated for the first time—a crucial step in confirming that the spacecraft survived the rigours of launch. The spacecraft has passed its initial instrument check with flying colours!

The data beamed back from the checkout indicate that the spacecraft and its instruments are all healthy. OLA conducted its test sequences on September 19 and 21, which included a firing of its two lasers.

OSIRIS-REx's instruments will be powered up every six months on its journey to Bennu. It is scheduled to reach its target asteroid in 2018.

(With material courtesy of NASA.)

A Gold Star for the Star Tracker!


Credit: NASA

Just four days after launch, OSIRIS-REx snapped its very first picture using the star tracker navigational camera, confirming that the system is working properly. Similar to the way early sailors used the stars to navigate prior to the invention of special instruments, OSIRIS-REx's star tracker captures images of the stars, comparing them to an on-board catalogue and reporting its attitude (the direction in which it is pointing) to the spacecraft navigation systems.

Traveling at approximately 19,800 kilometres per hour, it will take OSIRIS-REx two years to reach the primitive asteroid Bennu. After carefully studying Bennu, OSIRIX-REx will extract a sample for scientists on Earth to advance their understanding of the formation of our solar system more than 4.5 billion years ago.

Liftoff of OSIRIS-REx!

OSIRIS-REx launch

Credits: NASA/Joel Kowsky

The Canadian Space Agency is on its way to an asteroid for the first time as part of NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission, which launched from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, on September 8, 2016, at 7:05 p.m. EDT.

It will take two years for OSIRIS-REx to reach Bennu. The sample will return to Earth in 2023.

OSIRIS-REx's rocket is almost ready!

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft awaiting launch

Credit: NASA

The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket that will propel the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to Bennu is now in place on its launch pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. OSIRIS-REx is scheduled for lift-off on September 8, 2016, at 7:05 p.m. EDT (4:05 p.m. PDT).

Bennu bound: Two weeks to launch!

Animation of the launch of an Atlas V rocket

This animation shows how the Atlas V will launch, from ignition and lift-off, to the rocket leaving Earth, the separation of the solid rocket boosters, followed by two Centaur upper stage firings, then the separation of the Centaur itself. Once the payload fairing opens, the OSIRIS-REx will separate from the rocket, open its solar arrays and begin its two-year journey to Bennu. (Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center)

The Atlas V rocket that will launch OSIRIS-REx to the asteroid Bennu is currently being assembled at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. OSIRIS-REx is slated for lift-off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on September 8, 2016, at 7:05 p.m. EDT (4:05 p.m. PDT). The mission has a 34-day launch window.

Mission to Bennu: On September 13, meet the Canadians behind NASA's OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission

Canadian-built laser mapping system takes aim at an asteroid

Credit: NASA

On September 8, 2016, an Atlas V rocket will lift off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, propelling the OSIRIS-REx robotic explorer on a 7-year journey to return a piece of the asteroid Bennu to Earth.

OSIRIS-REx will seek answers to some of the most fundamental questions central to the human experience: Where did we come from? What is our destiny? Since asteroids are remnants left over from the formation of the planets, Bennu may hold tantalizing clues to the earliest history of our solar system. The 500-metre wide Bennu is also one of the most potentially hazardous celestial objects known to humanity, with a relatively high risk of striking Earth late in the 22nd century.

OSIRIS-REx will probe Bennu's physical and chemical properties, and gain critical information to help determine its exact trajectory. The spacecraft's made-in-Canada laser—the most sophisticated ever sent into space—will make a 3D map of the asteroid and sleuth out the best sites for a sample that will return to Earth in 2024.

On Tuesday, September 13, 2016, join the Canadian Space Agency and the Royal Ontario Museum for an evening with the scientists and engineers behind OSIRIS-REx as they return to Canada just days after the mission's launch. Learn more about their quest to study Bennu and how Canada is contributing to the mission.

Dr. Mike Daly, York University
Imran Aslam, MDA
Dr. Tim Haltigin, Canadian Space Agency

Dr. Ed Cloutis, University of Winnipeg
Jim Freemantle, York University
Dr. Rebecca Ghent, University of Toronto
Dr. Kim Tait, Royal Ontario Museum

Moderator: Ziya Tong, Co-host of Discovery Channel's Daily Planet

Canadian-built laser mapping system takes aim at an asteroid

A technician prepares the OLA

Credits: NASA / Goddard / Debora McCallum

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has delivered its contribution to NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission: the Canadian-built OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA).

OSIRIS-REx will study Bennu, an asteroid that has the potential to impact the Earth in the late 2100s. It is Canada's first international mission to return a sample from an asteroid to Earth.

OLA is a sophisticated laser-based mapping system built for the CSA by MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. and their partner, Optech. It will create unprecedented 3D maps of Bennu to help the mission team select a site from which to collect a sample.

In exchange for OLA, the CSA will own a portion of the returned sample, which will be studied by Canadian scientists.

OLA has arrived at the Lockheed Martin Space Systems facilities near Denver, Colorado. In the coming months, OLA will be integrated onto the spacecraft and undergo spacecraft-level testing in preparation for launch in September 2016.

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