The OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample-return mission


Canada, say "OLA" to an asteroid

A Canadian laser will make a 3D map of an asteroid and sleuth out the best sample site for NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission

Launch: September 8, 2016, at 7:05 p.m. EDT (4:05 p.m. PDT) aboard an Atlas V rocket at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.
Status: En route to Bennu


The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) is collaborating with NASA on OSIRIS-REx, the first US mission to return a sample from an asteroid to Earth. The mission will help answer fundamental questions about how our solar system formed, how life began and how we can avoid asteroid impacts with Earth. OSIRIS-REx (short for Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer) will also give us a better understanding of one of the most potentially hazardous asteroids currently known to humanity. OSIRIS-REx also marks the first time the CSA is part of an international sample-return mission.

OSIRIS-REx will take about two years to zero in on its target—the asteroid Bennu. The spacecraft will carry five science instruments that will map the asteroid in visible, infrared and x-ray wavelengths, with the Canadian instrument, OLA (short for the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter), measuring its surface materials and topography. When OSIRIS-REx reaches Bennu in 2018, OLA will spend six months mapping the entire surface to learn more about the asteroid's history, composition and morphology. Mission scientists will then use this information to choose a location for the spacecraft to sample. OSIRIS-REx will lower itself down towards the surface and—without landing—extend its robotic arm and use a Touch-and-Go Sampler to grasp over 60 g of fine gravel, dust and surface material (known as regolith). The sample-return capsule will then make its way back to Earth, touching down in the desert of Utah in 2023.

The OSIRIS-REx mission is led by Principal Investigator Dr. Dante S. Lauretta of the University of Arizona and supported by a science team of co-investigators, with project management at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. The spacecraft was built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems.

Read more about the international OSIRIS-REx team.

What is a gravity assist?

Did you know that a spacecraft can use a planet’s gravity to change its orbit? For example, on September 22, 2017, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will use Earth’s gravity to change its orbit and help put it on course to asteroid Bennu, its target destination. With the help of this gravity assist, OSIRIS-REx is due to arrive at the asteroid in August 2018. Learn more about the OSIRIS-REx asteroid-sample return mission: (Credit: CSA)

OSIRIS-REx Mission Animation

This animation provides an overview of how the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will study the asteroid Bennu, collect a sample and return it to Earth. Canada's contribution to the mission, the OLA, can been seen firing an orange beam at 0:29. This is how the instrument will produce a 3D map of Bennu. (Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center)

OSIRIS-REx: The Mission - Infographic

Text description of image OSIRIS-REx: The Mission - Infographic

OSIRIS-REx: The Mission - Infographic. (Credit: Canadian Space Agency)