NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission marks the first time Canada is participating in an asteroid sample return. The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is currently travelling back to Earth from asteroid Bennu, where its Canadian lidar instrument created a 3D map to help scientists select a sample site.
Taking a closer look at carbon-rich Bennu may help answer questions about how our solar system formed and how life on Earth began.
- Earth return cruise
- Approach phase began:
- Sample collection:
- Arrival of sample on Earth:
The OSIRIS-REx mission was designed to:
- map asteroid Bennu
- document the sample site
- measure the asteroid's orbit and factors which influence it
- compare observations at the asteroid to those made from Earth
- return a sample of Bennu's surface to Earth for analysis
Canada has contributed technical and scientific expertise to the OSIRIS-REx mission. The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) provided OLA (OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter), a lidar system able to scan the asteroid from up to 7 km away, and supports:
- scientists and engineers on OLA's development and operations team
- scientists from Canadian institutions who are part of the broader OSIRIS-REx science team
How the mission works
The seven-year mission consists of several phases:
- launch, gravity assist with Earth, outbound cruise to Bennu
Following its launch in , the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft orbited the Sun for one year, then used Earth's gravity to change its orbit and help put it on course to asteroid Bennu.
The spacecraft began the asteroid approach phase in . The spacecraft then fired its rocket thrusters to adjust its speed and trajectory for a rendezvous with asteroid Bennu in December 2018.
- asteroid mapping
OLA spent approximately one year mapping Bennu's surface. Mission scientists then used that information to choose a location for the spacecraft to sample. Nightingale, near Bennu's north pole, was selected as the sample site.
- sample acquisition
OSIRIS-REx lowered itself down towards the surface, extended its robotic arm, and released a burst of nitrogen gas to stir up dust and gravel. The sampling module successfully collected more than 60 grams of surface material.
- return cruise and re-entry
OSIRIS-REx is making its way back toward Earth. Its sample-return capsule will separate from the spacecraft and touch down in the Utah desert in .
About the spacecraft
The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft was assembled by Lockheed Martin Space Systems. It is about the size of an SUV and includes five science instruments that scanned the asteroid in visible, infrared, and X-ray wavelengths.
When its solar panels are deployed, OSIRIS-REx can generate up to 3,000 watts of power. Although OLA contains approximately 4,000 mechanical parts and 3,000 electrical parts, the sophisticated instrument uses only 75W – similar to a lightbulb!
OSIRIS-REx's Sample Return Capsule is equipped with a heat shield and parachutes to keep the asteroid sample intact as it enters Earth's atmosphere and to ensure a soft landing.
|Length||6.2 m with solar panels deployed|
|Width||2.4 m × 2.4 m|
|Length of sampling arm||3.4 m|
|Dry mass (unfuelled)||880 kg|
|Wet mass (fuelled)||2,110 kg|
- University of Arizona, including Principal Investigator Dr. Dante S. Lauretta
- Lockheed Martin Space Systems
- France's Centre national d'études spatiales (CNES)
- Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency
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