Canada takes aim at an asteroid

News Release

The Canadian Space Agency delivers its contribution to the first U.S. mission to return a sample of an asteroid to Earth

December 17, 2015 - Longueuil, Quebec

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has delivered a sophisticated laser-based mapping system, its contribution to a NASA mission that will be Canada's first international attempt to bring a sample of an asteroid to Earth. NASA's Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission will study Bennu, an asteroid that has the potential to impact the Earth in the late 2100s.

The Canadian-built OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (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.

Built for the CSA by MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. and their partner, Optech, OLA will create unprecedented 3D maps of Bennu to help the mission team select a site from which to collect a sample.The CSA will own a portion of the returned sample, which will be studied by Canadian scientists.

Quick facts

  • OSIRIS-REx will reach Bennu in late 2018. The sample will return to Earth in 2023.
  • Dr. Michael Daly of York University is the OLA lead instrument scientist. The Canadian science team contributing to the mission also includes researchers from the University of Calgary, the University of Winnipeg, the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia.
  • The CSA's total investment in OSIRIS-REx for the full life cycle of the mission is $61 million over 15 years to support the development of OLA and the science team.


"The scans that our laser altimeter will return from this asteroid will enable Canadian scientists to take part in an international effort that could revolutionize our understanding of the solar system. I'm proud that the Canadian Space Agency is supporting NASA on such an ambitious international mission and pushing science and innovation to exciting new frontiers."

The Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development

"This is an exciting milestone in a groundbreaking international partnership that will improve our understanding of asteroids and the composition of the very early solar system. The Canadian-built laser altimeter is a critical component of the OSIRIS-REx mission, and NASA values and appreciates our partners at the CSA."

Dr. James Green, Director of Planetary Science, NASA

"The data received from OLA will be key to determining a safe sample site on Bennu. This instrument is a valuable addition to the spacecraft, and I appreciate our Canadian partners' hard work and contribution to the OSIRIS-REx mission."

Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

"OLA will measure the shape and topography of Bennu to a much higher fidelity and with much greater efficiency than any planetary science mission has achieved. This information is essential to understanding the evolution and current state of the asteroid. It will also provide invaluable information in aid of retrieving a sample of Bennu for return to Earth."

Dr. Michael Daly, OLA lead instrument scientist, York University

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