Canadian LIDAR to be a Part of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Sample Return Mission

This is an artist's concept of NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft preparing to take a sample from asteroid Bennu. Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/Chris Meaney.
NASA today announced that the Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-REx mission was the winner of NASA’s third mission in its New Frontiers Program. It was one of three finalists. Regardless of which mission was going to be selected Canada was participating in all three. Canada’s contribution will be a Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) system that the Canadian Space Agency will contract out to MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA) in partnership with Optech.

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will launch in 2016 and will take four years to reach its destination, the near Earth asteroid designated 1999 RQ36. One it reaches the asteroid it will spend six months mapping the surface. The science team will then pick a location to land so that its robotic arm can scoop up some of its soil for return to Earth. It will return to Earth in 2023 landing in Utah.

The Canadian LIDAR is one of four primary instruments on the spacecraft and has the critical function of scanning the asteroid to create a dataset similar to 3D map that will assist in navigating the spacecraft towards the asteroid and will also assist when it prepares to land.

Speaking on a NASA teleconference Michael Drake the principal investigator of the mission from the University of Arizona in Tucson said the LIDAR will also be used to “look at the shape of the asteroid, from that we’ll learn issues of mass and we can derive densities and internal structure and a bunch of other things, so it’s an important instrument. The Canadians have a track record with this kind of instrument and we’ve partnered with them before on the Mars Phoenix Lander and they are a very reliable partner.

This asteroid is a time capsule from the birth of our solar system and ushers in a new era of planetary exploration,” said Jim Green, director, NASA’s Planetary Science Division in Washington. “The knowledge from the mission also will help us to develop methods to better track the orbits of asteroids.

According to slides on the mission provided by Drake the asteroid is the most potentially hazardous asteroid known. It has a probability of 1 in 1,800 of impacting the Earth in 2182. OSIRIS-REx serves as a “transponder mission”, “it has the dual objectives of refining the orbit to ascertain whether an impact is impending and characterizing the object to facilitate a possible deflection mission“.

Alan Hildebrand of the University of Calgary is the principal investigator of the Canadian LIDAR. Michael Daly, a professor York University is the deputy science team lead. Hildebrand and Daly along with scientists from the University of Toronto, University of Winnipeg and the University of British Columbia will receive some of the soil to analyze.

The mission, excluding the launch vehicle, is expected to cost approximately $800 million.

About Marc Boucher

Boucher is an entrepreneur, writer, editor & publisher. He is the founder of SpaceQ Media Inc. and CEO and co-founder of SpaceRef Interactive LLC. Boucher has 20+ years working in various roles in the space industry and a total of 30 years as a technology entrepreneur including creating Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine.

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