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:
- scientists and engineers on OLA's development and operations team
- scientists from Canadian institutions who are part of the broader OSIRIS-REx science team
Meet OLA and the experts behind Canadian OSIRIS-REx research.
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:
- scan and measure the surface of the asteroid
- create a highly accurate 3D model
- provide scientists with detailed information about Bennu's shape, distribution of boulders, craters, slopes, and other surface features
- help researchers and mission planners select the best location from which to gather a sample of the asteroid
How OLA worked
OLA is the most sophisticated scanning lidar to ever be used in space. It worked by:
- firing short pulses of laser light toward the asteroid
- precisely measuring the time between when those pulses of light were fired, and when they bounced off Bennu's surface and were recaptured by the sensor
While orbiting Bennu, OLA used two lasers:
- its high-energy laser, for scanning from 1 km to 7.5 km above the asteroid
- its low-energy laser, for rapid imaging 225 m to 1 km above the asteroid
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?
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:
- Dr. Jeff Seabrook, York University
- Dr. Olivier Barnouin, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory
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:
|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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