OSIRIS-REx is ready for its attempt to collect a sample from asteroid Bennu
The time has come! On , NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will attempt to take a sample from near-Earth asteroid Bennu. The spacecraft will lower itself towards the surface and, without landing, extend its robotic arm to make contact with the surface of Bennu for about 10 seconds. During that time, it will release a burst of nitrogen gas that will cause dust and gravel to be stirred up, capturing 60 to 2,000 grams of material in the arm's sampling head.
Taking a closer look at this carbon-rich asteroid may help answer questions about how our solar system formed and how life on Earth may have begun. The mission marks the first time Canada is participating in an asteroid sample-return mission.
The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) contributed the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA) to the mission, a laser system able to scan the asteroid from up to seven kilometres away. Thanks to Canadian technical and scientific expertise, the instrument allowed OSIRIS-REx to scan the asteroid's surface to create high-resolution 3D maps that were crucial to help mission scientists select the best sample site. In , four potential sample sites were identified by mission scientists. Nightingale was then chosen as the primary site.
The sample is scheduled to return to Earth in . Thanks to the CSA's contribution to the mission, Canada will receive a portion of the asteroid material. Watch special coverage about OSIRIS-REx and the sample collection on NASA TV starting at 5 p.m. ET on .
Canadian instrument on OSIRIS-REx took the most detailed 3D measurements of any celestial body ever explored
On , NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will attempt to take a sample from Bennu in hopes of answering questions about how our solar system formed and how life on Earth may have begun. After a challenging process where scientists discovered that Bennu's surface was much more rugged than initially expected, a site named "Nightingale" was officially chosen as OSIRIS-REx's final target to collect a sample. Without measurements taken by the Canadian instrument OLA, the selection of a sample site would have been much more difficult. OLA scanned the asteroid's surface and took almost 3 billion individual measurements, spaced on average less than 5 cm apart, to create a 3D model of Bennu.
This "shape model" was also used to interpret Bennu's geological history and better understand some of the changes that have occurred on its surface over time, as Daly and his colleagues report in the paper. Specifically, at some point in Bennu's history, more large boulders accumulated in the southern hemisphere than in the north. Over time, these large boulders blocked the movement of finer surface material in the south, while fine material in the north moved more freely. As a result, Bennu's current shape is rounder and smoother in the south than it is in the north.
The OSIRIS-REx mission has been a unique opportunity for Canada to showcase its technical and scientific expertise. Thanks to the Canadian Space Agency's contribution to the mission, Canada will receive a portion of the returned sample when it comes back to Earth in , to be made available for study by Canadian scientists for generations to come.
Update on the status of OSIRIS-REx instrument OLA and mission operations
This week, OSIRIS-REx continued Reconnaissance C phase operations. The mission team spent the week preparing for the Nightingale site 250-metre flyover, scheduled for .
The mission team has made the decision to use OLA's high-energy laser transmitter (HELT) to provide the ranging data to focus PolyCam during the flyover of site Nightingale. Canadian instrument OLA had successfully completed all tasks related to selecting Nightingale as the primary sample acquisition site. OLA consists of two laser subsystems: the HELT and the low-energy laser transmitter (LELT). OLA's LELT was originally scheduled to provide the ranging data.
However, as a result of the anomaly that occurred during the Reconnaissance B site Osprey flyover, the team has determined that the LELT system is no longer operable. Despite the LELT's condition, the HELT system has continued to operate as expected, and will be used to focus PolyCam for the remaining reconnaissance passes.
OLA has already completed all of its principal requirements for the OSIRIS-REx mission. OLA's scans of Bennu's surface were used to create the high-resolution 3D global maps of Bennu's topography that were crucial for selecting the primary and backup sample collection sites last fall.
Information regarding an anomaly for Canadian OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter
On , NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft safely executed a flyover of the backup sample collection site Osprey as part of the mission's activities. Preliminary telemetry, however, indicates that the Canadian OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA) did not operate as expected during the 11-hour event.
OLA had successfully completed all tasks related to selecting Nightingale as the primary sample acquisition site. Last year OLA also scanned the asteroid's surface to create high-resolution 3D maps that were crucial to help mission scientists select the best sample site.
The other science instruments all performed nominally during the flyover. These instruments and the spacecraft continue their normal operations in orbit around asteroid Bennu.
The mission team is currently reviewing the available data from the flyover in order to fully assess the OLA instrument. The entire data set from the flyover, including the PolyCam images, will be completely downlinked from the spacecraft next week and will provide additional insight into any impact that the loss of the OLA data may have.
Canadian laser's high-resolution maps play a crucial role in selecting Nightingale, OSIRIS-REx's final sample site
After a challenging process, Nightingale was officially chosen as OSIRIS-REx's final site to collect a sample of asteroid Bennu.
The Canadian OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter, or OLA, scanned the asteroid's surface to create high-resolution 3D maps that were crucial to help mission scientists select the best sample site. As the mission progressed, scientists discovered that Bennu's surface was much more rugged than initially expected. Without OLA data, the selection of a sample site would have been even more complex. The Canadian instrument produced the most detailed three-dimensional measurements of a celestial body, vital for such a challenging mission.
In August, Sandpiper, Osprey, Kingfisher, and Nightingale were identified as the four candidate sample sites. NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft performed a series of flyovers to provide the science team with high-resolution data and imagery of each site. Detailed images of the boulders, craters and other geological features were produced to help mission scientists select the safest and most scientifically interesting location. Nightingale was then chosen as the primary site, and Osprey as the back-up option.
The Nightingale site is located in a large crater with several sampling regions and holds the greatest amount of fine-grained material, which is essential to collect enough sample to ensure mission success. Moreover, Nightingale's regolith (the layer of loose material covering solid rock) is relatively smooth, well preserved and freshly exposed. This means the site would likely provide a pristine sample of the asteroid, giving the team insight into Bennu's history. But collecting this sample will be a tricky endeavour as the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will have to get around a boulder the size of a building that is located on the crater's eastern rim.
OLA will continue to work in tandem with other instruments on the spacecraft to gather crucial data about the primary and backup sample sites. Sample collection is scheduled for summer , and the sample will return to Earth in . Thanks to the Canadian Space Agency's contribution to the mission, Canada will receive a portion of the returned sample.
Canadian laser maps potential OSIRIS-REx sample sites, completes global 3D view of asteroid Bennu
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.
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
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
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 .
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.
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
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!
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!
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!
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 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
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
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
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.