OLA, Canada's Contribution to OSIRIS-REx


Images of OLA

Image 1

OLA, Canada's Contribution to OSIRIS-REx

The flight unit of OLA, the Canadian Space Agency's contribution to NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission. OLA consists of two parts: an electronics box (left) and the sensor head (right) housing 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)

Image 2

OLA, Canada's Contribution to OSIRIS-REx

A technician prepares the OLA sensor head for testing at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Baltimore, Maryland. (Credit: NASA / Goddard / Debora McCallum)

Image 3

OLA, Canada's Contribution to OSIRIS-REx

OLA undergoes a final visual inspection before being sealed in a chamber for thermal-vacuum testing to determine whether the instrument can withstand the harsh environment of space. (Credit: NASA / Goddard / Debora McCallum)

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) contribution to NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission is an advanced laser system known as the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA). OLA is a hybrid of the lidar on the CSA's weather station aboard the Phoenix Mars Lander and an instrument flown on the 2005 US Air Force eXperimental Satellite System-11 (XSS-11). Both instruments were built by a Canadian company, MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA). As the CSA's prime contractor, MDA designed, built and tested OLA. A lidar works by firing short laser pulses that can measure precisely the distance to the surface by timing the delay for the light to bounce back from the surface to the sensor. OLA will scan and measure the entire surface of the asteroid to create a highly accurate 3D model of the asteroid, and provide mission scientists with unprecedented information on the asteroid's shape, topography, distribution of boulders, rocks and other surface features.

The international team behind OLA

Dr. Michael Daly of York University, an expert on lidar technology and former member of the Canadian Phoenix Mars Lander team, is OLA's lead instrument scientist, while Dr. Catherine Johnson of the University of British Columbia (UBC) serves as the deputy instrument scientist.

The OLA instrument science team is supported by additional researchers at both York and UBC, as well as international collaborator teams led by Dr.  Olivier Barnouin (Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory) and Dr. Beau Bierhaus (Lockheed Martin Space Systems).

Instrument engineering support for OLA is led by Dr. Cameron Dickinson (MDA). Overall operations are managed by the CSA's OSIRIS-REx mission scientist, Dr. Tim Haltigin.

The Canadian mission science team

In addition to OLA, Canada is contributing a wealth of scientific expertise to the OSIRIS-REx mission. Scientists from around the country were selected to perform investigations that will help unravel the physical, chemical, and geological mysteries that Bennu has in store. Research teams are led by:

  • Dr. Edward Cloutis, University of Winnipeg
  • Dr. Rebecca Ghent, University of Toronto
  • Dr. Alan Hildebrand, University of Calgary
  • Dr. Kim Tait, Royal Ontario Museum

An asteroid sample for Canada

For decades, scientists in Canada have been studying through telescopes or by recovering fragments of asteroids that have landed on Canadian soil through meteorite impacts. However, when meteors enter our atmosphere, they are subjected to extreme temperatures, baking away some of the key clues scientists are searching for. Journeying to the asteroid will validate what we have learned though telescopes and meteorites, and help us understand asteroids up close by bringing back a pristine, unaltered sample.

In exchange for providing the OLA instrument to the mission, the CSA will receive a portion of the total returned sample, which will be stored in Canada. Having access to part of the sample will enable the Canadian science team to conduct research that could revolutionize our understanding of the solar system's history, how our planet formed, and possibly the origin of water and life on Earth.

OLA: Canada's contribution to the OSIRIS-REx mission - Infographic

Text description of image OLA: Canada's contribution to the OSIRIS-REx mission - Infographic

OLA: Canada's contribution to the OSIRIS-REx mission - Infographic. (Credit: Canadian Space Agency)