Canadian laser maps potential OSIRIS-REx sample sites, completes global 3D view of asteroid Bennu

These detailed views of four potential sample sites on asteroid Bennu (complete with boulders, craters and other geological features) are based on a series of measurements taken by the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA), the Canadian laser instrument aboard NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft.
Image creation: Michael Daly, Centre for Research in Earth and Space Science, York University
(Credit: NASA/University of Arizona/Canadian Space Agency/York University/MDA)

A made-in-Canada laser aboard NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has produced high-resolution topographic maps of the four locations on asteroid Bennu that mission scientists have identified as candidates for sample collection.

The OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter, or OLA, is equipped with two lasers that scanned the asteroid's surface to produce detailed images of the boulders, craters and other geological features at each of the four sites. These maps will be crucial in helping mission scientists select the safest and most scientifically interesting of the approximately 10-metre-wide candidates – known as Nightingale, Kingfisher, Osprey, and Sandpiper.

OLA's high-resolution results follow the activation of the instrument's low-energy laser transmitter (LELT) at the beginning of . The LELT is designed to fire 10,000 light pulses per second at the asteroid, and operates at a range of less than 1 km above Bennu's surface.

In previous mission phases, OLA's high-energy laser transmitter (HELT) – firing 100 pulses per second from greater distances – collected data that enabled the creation of the first 3D lidar map of the asteroid in .

By , OLA's HELT had collected about 9 million additional measurements to complete coverage of the entire asteroid, compiling the first global map of asteroid Bennu's topography.

This 3D global map of asteroid Bennu's topography was created from about 20 million measurements taken by the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA), an instrument contributed to the international sample-return mission by the Canadian Space Agency. 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
(Credit: NASA/University of Arizona/Canadian Space Agency/York University/MDA)

Mission scientists anticipate that high volumes of data collected by OLA's LELT – in the order of several billion measurements – will enable the creation of a new, higher-resolution global map, featuring one data point per 7 centimetres and offering an unprecedented level of detail over Bennu's entire surface.

High-resolution maps of the four potential sample sites, like that of the Sandpiper site below, will allow OSIRIS-REx scientists to:

  • assess the safety and accessibility of each region
  • locate landmarks that will help the spacecraft navigate during sample collection
  • identify areas of fine-grained material compatible with OSIRIS-REx's sampling device

The same area of asteroid Bennu's surface – a potential sample site known as Sandpiper – was measured by each of OLA's lasers. OLA's high-energy laser transmitter (HELT) captured its measurements from a distance of 5 kilometres (top right). OLA's low-energy laser transmitter (LELT) captured the details of the site's boulders and craters from a distance of only 700 metres (bottom right).
Image creation: Michael Daly, Centre for Research in Earth and Space Science, York University
(Credit: NASA/University of Arizona/Canadian Space Agency/York University/MDA)

OLA's LELT will continue to work in tandem with other instruments on the spacecraft to gather crucial data about the surface of the asteroid. A primary and a backup site will be announced in , and the spacecraft is scheduled to begin rehearsing sampling manoeuvres in early .

For more updates on the OSIRIS-REx mission, follow the Canadian Space Agency on social media.

First 3D lidar map of asteroid Bennu created by Canada's OLA instrument

Image creation: Michael Daly, Centre for Research in Earth and Space Science, York University
(Credit: NASA/University of Arizona/Canadian Space Agency/York University/MDA)

This colourful new glimpse of asteroid Bennu is the first 3D lidar map created since the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft's arrival at the asteroid in .

The three-dimensional shape model is based on data gathered by the Canadian Space Agency's OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA) instrument.

To create the image, over 11 million laser pulses were fired and captured by OLA between and as OSIRIS-REx flew less than 2 kilometres from the asteroid's rocky surface.

The colours represent the distance from the centre of Bennu: dark blue areas lie approximately 60 metres lower than peaks indicated in red. Some parts of the asteroid have not yet been measured, which creates gaps in the image.

Throughout , OLA will take nearly a billion more measurements to complete the first-ever high-resolution 3D lidar map of a near-Earth asteroid. Data collected by the Canadian-contributed technology will be essential in identifying a suitable sample site.

Canadian OLA instrument scans asteroid Bennu


This image of Bennu is a composite of 12 images taken by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft’s PolyCam imager from a distance of 24 kilometres. (Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)

On , after a two-year journey of over two billion kilometres, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft finally reached its destination: asteroid Bennu.

One day later, Canadian instrument OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA) began firing its laser during the mission's Preliminary Survey phase, gathering the first ever scanning lidar data from an asteroid.

OLA's first pass was followed by a successful health checkup. The instrument's engineering team performed a complete assessment that found that OLA is operating as expected.

In total, the instrument will spend about one year using concentrated beams of light to measure the shape of Bennu's entire surface, creating a 3D map that will help scientists choose a safe and scientifically rich sample site.

Over the remainder of the Preliminary Survey phase, the spacecraft will perform flyovers of Bennu's north pole, equatorial region, and south pole at a distance of seven kilometres. Further mission phases will see the spacecraft fly ever closer to the asteroid's surface until it retrieves a sample in .

The sample, which could contain up to two kilograms of asteroid material, will be brought to Earth in . Canada will receive a portion of the sample, and Canadian scientists will analyze it to help unravel some of the mysteries of the early solar system.

OSIRIS-REx closes in on Bennu, begins approach phase with first asteroid snapshot

The first image of Bennu, seen as a small point of light, was captured by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft at a distance of 2.2 million kilometers. Throughout its approach phase, OSIRIS-REx will gradually get closer to the asteroid and send more images back to Earth. (Credit: NASA)

After traveling toward asteroid Bennu for nearly two years, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has officially begun its approach phase.

On NASA released the first snapshot of Bennu, taken at a distance of 2.2 million kilometers, equivalent to six times the distance between the Earth and the Moon.

Over the next four months, OSIRIS-REx will fly ever closer to Bennu while returning more images of the asteroid to Earth.

The spacecraft will begin the mission's asteroid science operations in . For approximately one year, Canadian instrument OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA) will map Bennu's surface to create a 3D map that will help scientists choose a sample site.

OSIRIS-REx is Canada's first participation in an asteroid sample-return mission. In exchange for providing OLA, Canada will receive a portion of the collected sample, enabling Canadian science for generations to come.

OSIRIS-REx aces its first instrument check!


Credit: NASA / Goddard

Approximately two weeks following its launch, OSIRIS-REx's five science instruments, including Canada's OLA, were powered up and operated for the first time—a crucial step in confirming that the spacecraft survived the rigours of launch. The spacecraft has passed its initial instrument check with flying colours!

The data beamed back from the checkout indicate that the spacecraft and its instruments are all healthy. OLA conducted its test sequences on September 19 and 21, which included a firing of its two lasers.

OSIRIS-REx's instruments will be powered up every six months on its journey to Bennu. It is scheduled to reach its target asteroid in 2018.

(With material courtesy of NASA.)

A Gold Star for the Star Tracker!


Credit: NASA

Just four days after launch, OSIRIS-REx snapped its very first picture using the star tracker navigational camera, confirming that the system is working properly. Similar to the way early sailors used the stars to navigate prior to the invention of special instruments, OSIRIS-REx's star tracker captures images of the stars, comparing them to an on-board catalogue and reporting its attitude (the direction in which it is pointing) to the spacecraft navigation systems.

Traveling at approximately 19,800 kilometres per hour, it will take OSIRIS-REx two years to reach the primitive asteroid Bennu. After carefully studying Bennu, OSIRIX-REx will extract a sample for scientists on Earth to advance their understanding of the formation of our solar system more than 4.5 billion years ago.

Liftoff of OSIRIS-REx!

OSIRIS-REx launch

Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

The Canadian Space Agency is on its way to an asteroid for the first time as part of NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission, which launched from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, on September 8, 2016, at 7:05 p.m. EDT.

It will take two years for OSIRIS-REx to reach Bennu. The sample will return to Earth in 2023.

OSIRIS-REx's rocket is almost ready!

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft awaiting launch

Credit: NASA

The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket that will propel the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to Bennu is now in place on its launch pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. OSIRIS-REx is scheduled for lift-off on September 8, 2016, at 7:05 p.m. EDT (4:05 p.m. PDT).

Bennu bound: Two weeks to launch!

Animation of the launch of an Atlas V rocket

This animation shows how the Atlas V will launch, from ignition and lift-off, to the rocket leaving Earth, the separation of the solid rocket boosters, followed by two Centaur upper stage firings, then the separation of the Centaur itself. Once the payload fairing opens, the OSIRIS-REx will separate from the rocket, open its solar arrays and begin its two-year journey to Bennu. (Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center)

The Atlas V rocket that will launch OSIRIS-REx to the asteroid Bennu is currently being assembled at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. OSIRIS-REx is slated for lift-off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on September 8, 2016, at 7:05 p.m. EDT (4:05 p.m. PDT). The mission has a 34-day launch window.

Mission to Bennu: On September 13, meet the Canadians behind NASA's OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission

Canadian-built laser mapping system takes aim at an asteroid

Credit: NASA

On September 8, 2016, an Atlas V rocket will lift off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, propelling the OSIRIS-REx robotic explorer on a 7-year journey to return a piece of the asteroid Bennu to Earth.

OSIRIS-REx will seek answers to some of the most fundamental questions central to the human experience: Where did we come from? What is our destiny? Since asteroids are remnants left over from the formation of the planets, Bennu may hold tantalizing clues to the earliest history of our solar system. The 500-metre wide Bennu is also one of the most potentially hazardous celestial objects known to humanity, with a relatively high risk of striking Earth late in the 22nd century.

OSIRIS-REx will probe Bennu's physical and chemical properties, and gain critical information to help determine its exact trajectory. The spacecraft's made-in-Canada laser—the most sophisticated ever sent into space—will make a 3D map of the asteroid and sleuth out the best sites for a sample that will return to Earth in 2024.

On Tuesday, September 13, 2016, join the Canadian Space Agency and the Royal Ontario Museum for an evening with the scientists and engineers behind OSIRIS-REx as they return to Canada just days after the mission's launch. Learn more about their quest to study Bennu and how Canada is contributing to the mission.

Dr. Mike Daly, York University
Imran Aslam, MDA
Dr. Tim Haltigin, Canadian Space Agency

Dr. Ed Cloutis, University of Winnipeg
Jim Freemantle, York University
Dr. Rebecca Ghent, University of Toronto
Dr. Kim Tait, Royal Ontario Museum

Moderator: Ziya Tong, Co-host of Discovery Channel's Daily Planet

Canadian-built laser mapping system takes aim at an asteroid

A technician prepares the OLA

Credit: NASA / Goddard / Debora McCallum

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has delivered its contribution to NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission: the Canadian-built OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA).

OSIRIS-REx will study Bennu, an asteroid that has the potential to impact the Earth in the late 2100s. It is Canada's first international mission to return a sample from an asteroid to Earth.

OLA is a sophisticated laser-based mapping system built for the CSA by MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. and their partner, Optech. It will create unprecedented 3D maps of Bennu to help the mission team select a site from which to collect a sample.

In exchange for OLA, the CSA will own a portion of the returned sample, which will be studied by Canadian scientists.

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.

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