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Canada's role in OSIRIS-REx

Canada has a unique opportunity to showcase its technical and scientific expertise as part of NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission.

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA)'s contribution to the mission is the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA), a laser system able to scan the asteroid from up to seven kilometres away. The CSA also supports:

Meet OLA and the experts behind Canadian OSIRIS-REx research.

OLA: Canada's contribution to the OSIRIS-REx mission - Infographic

A Canadian laser made a 3D map of an asteroid to help sleuth out the best sample site for NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission. (Credit: CSA)

In exchange for contributing the OLA instrument, Canada will receive a portion of the pristine asteroid sample.

OLA: OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter

The sophisticated laser instrument OLA mapped asteroid Bennu. It was designed to:

Tim Haltigin, Canadian OSIRIS-REx Mission Manager at the CSA, describes Canada's contribution to the mission, the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA). (Credit: NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center)

How OLA worked

OLA is the most sophisticated scanning lidar to ever be used in space. It worked by:

While orbiting Bennu, OLA used two lasers:

The flight unit of OLA, the Canadian Space Agency's contribution to NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission

OLA consists of two parts: an electronics box (left), which stores collected data; and the sensor head (right), which houses two lasers that fired short laser pulses and a receiver to capture the beam that bounced back from the surface of the asteroid Bennu. (Credit: NASA / Goddard / Debora McCallum)

Scientists used OLA's 3D map to narrow down potential sample areas on asteroid Bennu. OLA data helped answer the following questions:

  • Can OSIRIS-REx access the site?
  • Can the spacecraft operate at the site without being damaged?
  • Is there enough loose surface material to collect?
  • What scientific questions can be answered by sampling at this location?

From four potential sample sites, Nightingale was eventually selected. OSIRIS-REx collected a sample from this area on Bennu on .

This 3D global map of asteroid Bennu's topography was created from about 20 million measurements taken by the OLA, an instrument contributed to the international sample-return mission by the CSA. The colours represent the distance from the centre of Bennu: dark blue areas lie approximately 60 metres lower than peaks indicated in red. This model has a resolution of approximately one measurement per metre. Image creation: Michael Daly, Centre for Research in Earth and Space Science, York University. (Credits: NASA, University of Arizona, York University, MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA), CSA)

Doctor Michael Daly
Jeff Seabrook

Dr. Michael Daly (left), OLA lead instrument scientist and professor at York University and Dr. Jeff Seabrook (right), deputy instrument scientist. (Credits: York University, Dylan Hamm, Photos Unlimited LLC)

OSIRIS-REx: a far-out opportunity for Canadian experts

OLA development and operations team

OLA was built for the CSA by MDA with significant contributions from subcontractor Optech.

This instrument is a hybrid of two other MDA technologies: the lidar on the CSA's weather station aboard the Phoenix Mars Lander, and an instrument flown on the US Air Force eXperimental Satellite System-11 (XSS-11).

OLA's lead instrument scientist is Dr. Michael Daly of York University, an expert on lidar technology and former member of the Canadian Phoenix Mars Lander team. He is assisted by:

These scientists working together with instrument support engineers from MDA planned science observations, operated OLA and ensured the health of the instrument. The CSA managed overall OLA operations.

For decades, scientists have studied meteorite fragments recovered on Canadian soil and elsewhere. But when meteors enter our atmosphere, they are exposed to extreme temperatures that bake away some of the key clues scientists have long searched for.

Analyzing the pristine sample returned by OSIRIS-REx could revolutionize our understanding of the solar system's history, how our planet formed, and possibly the origin of water and life on Earth.

Scientists from Canadian institutions

In exchange for providing the OLA instrument to the mission, the CSA will own 4% of the total returned sample, thus providing Canada's scientific community with its first-ever direct access to a returned asteroid sample. Researchers from around the country were selected to perform investigations that will help unravel Bennu's physical, chemical, and geological mysteries. The CSA is providing support to several Canadian institutions. Researchers at these institutions will prepare for and conduct analyses on a portion of the sample after its arrival on Earth in . These teams, which are part of the broader OSIRIS-REx mission, are led by:

Scientists from Canadian institutions
Researcher Institution Summary
Dr. Dominique Weis University of British Columbia Will analyze the sample to determine its origin and history.
Dr. Catherine Johnson University of British Columbia Will use the shape of craters to study Bennu's interior structure.
Dr. Edward Cloutis University of Winnipeg Will apply laboratory techniques to examine the sample's composition and compare it to data collected from the spacecraft.
Dr. Alan Hildebrand University of Calgary Will examine physical properties of the sample to better understand Bennu's geology.
Dr. Kim Tait Royal Ontario Museum/University of Toronto Using existing meteorites, will help determine the methods and protocols for curating this precious sample.
Dr. Michael Daly York University Will create spectroscopy maps of the sample, looking to identify organic materials that may represent the building blocks of life on Earth.

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