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The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft Canadian built laser altimeter may have a failed component

Artist illustration of OSIRIS-REx approaching asteroid Bennu. Credit: NASA

NASA and the Canadian Space Agency reported yesterday that preliminary data sent back from the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft indicates that the Canadian built OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA) did not perform as expected on its latest usage.

The spacecraft had completed a flyover of the Osprey backup sample site on February 11 as part of the Reconnaissance B phase activities and had returned partial data which indicated a problem with OLA.

OSIRIS-REx - Asteroid Bennu sample site finalists.
OSIRIS-REx – Asteroid Bennu sample site finalists. Credit: NASA.

NASA said “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. The OLA instrument was scheduled to provide ranging data to the spacecraft’s PolyCam imager, which would allow the camera to focus while imaging the area around the sample collection site. Consequently, the PolyCam images from the flyover are likely out of focus.”

Dr. Michael Daly of York University, OLA’s lead instrument scientist, told SpaceQ in an email “we are evaluating if we had a failure in a component. It should be noted that if that is the case, OLA has provided more than 10x the measurements of Bennu that were originally planned a decade ago and we look forward to sharing the amazing and unprecedented dataset in the near future.” OLA was build by MDA for the CSA.

OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA) flight unit
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.

Both NASA and Canadian Space Agency (CSA) were quick to point out that OLA had already completed its primary objectives.

The CSA saying “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.”

OSIRIS-REx mission infographic
OSIRIS-REx mission infographic. Credit: Canadian Space Agency.

NASA also commented on the health of the spacecraft saying “the other science instruments, including the MapCam imager, the OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emissions Spectrometer (OTES), and the OSIRIS-REx Visual and InfraRed Spectrometer (OVIRS), all performed nominally during the flyover. These instruments and the spacecraft continue in normal operations in orbit around asteroid Bennu.”

NASA will release further details after next weeks complete download of the data and analysis has been completed.

The colors represent the distance from the center of Bennu: dark blue areas lie approximately 197 feet (60 meters) lower than peaks indicated in red. Some parts of the asteroid have not yet been measured, which creates gaps in the image. OLA will take nearly a billion more measurements throughout 2019 to complete the first-ever high-resolution 3D lidar map of a near-Earth asteroid
The colors represent the distance from the center of Bennu: dark blue areas lie approximately 197 feet (60 meters) lower than peaks indicated in red. Some parts of the asteroid have not yet been measured, which creates gaps in the image. OLA will take nearly a billion more measurements throughout 2019 to complete the first-ever high-resolution 3D lidar map of a near-Earth asteroid. Credit: NASA.

About Marc Boucher

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 Inc. Boucher has 20 years working in various roles in the space industry and a total of 28 years as a technology entrepreneur including creating Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine.