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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.

A Canadian laser will make a 3D map of an asteroid and help sleuth out the best sample site for NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission. (Credit: Canadian Space Agency)

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

A Canadian institution will soon be selected to curate the sample, ensuring its safekeeping and enabling Canadian scientific research.

OLA: OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter

The sophisticated laser instrument OLA will map asteroid Bennu. It is designed to:

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

How OLA works

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

While orbiting Bennu, OLA will use two lasers:

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

Scientists will use OLA's 3D map to narrow down potential sample areas on asteroid Bennu. OLA data will help 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?
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 work together with instrument support engineers from MDA to plan science observations, operate OLA and ensure the health of the instrument. The CSA manages 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

Researchers from around the country were selected to perform investigations that will help unravel Bennu's physical, chemical, and geological mysteries. These teams, which are part of the broader OSIRIS-REx mission, are led by:

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