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Canadian Technology Takes Aim at an Asteroid

MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. to begin building a high tech laser for the OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample-return mission

TORONTO, ONTARIO -- (Marketwired) -- 07/17/14 -- Today, on behalf of Industry Minister James Moore, Treasury Board President Tony Clement announced a significant contribution to Canadian space innovation. In partnership with MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) is advancing Canada's leadership in the niche technologies of Light Detection and Ranging systems (Lidar) through Canada's first international mission to return a sample from an asteroid to Earth.

The US-led Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission will study Bennu, an asteroid that has the potential to impact the Earth in the late 2100s.

Canada's contribution to the mission is the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA), a sophisticated laser-based mapping system to be manufactured, assembled and tested by MDA and Optech. OLA will be used to 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 4% of the total returned sample, providing the Canadian scientific community with its first-ever direct access to a returned asteroid sample.

Canada's contribution to the OSIRIS-REx mission advances key principles of Canada's Space Policy Framework: developing cutting-edge Canadian industrial capabilities in optics, and maintaining the global competitiveness of our domestic space industry. This mission will provide Canada's science community with privileged access to an asteroid sample, and it strengthens our strategic international partnership with NASA.

Quick facts

- The Canadian Space Agency has awarded a contract worth $8.84 million to MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. to begin building the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter.

- The Canadian Space Agency will deliver the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter to NASA by November 2015 for integration onto the spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx will launch in September 2016 and will reach Bennu in late 2018. The sample will return to Earth in 2023.

- The Canadian science team is headed by Dr. Alan Hildebrand of the University of Calgary; Dr. Michael Daly of York University is the deputy principal investigator and the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter instrument scientist. The team also includes researchers from the University of Winnipeg, the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia.

- Bennu was named by Michael Puzio, a third-grader from North Carolina who entered a "Name that Asteroid!" contest organized by the mission. The name refers to the Egyptian mythological bird Bennu, which Puzio thought the spacecraft, OSIRIS-REx, resembled.

- People around the world are invited to send their names on a round-trip ride to asteroid Bennu. All names will be etched on a microchip aboard the spacecraft that will travel to Bennu, spend about 1000 days in the proximity of the asteroid, and journey back to Earth on the sample-return capsule. The sign-up campaign is open until September 30, 2014.

- The Canadian Space Agency's total investment in OSIRIS-REx for the full life cycle of the mission is $61 million over 15 years to support the development of OLA and the science team. This includes the $8.84 million contract with MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. to build the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter.


"Our government is proud to support Canada's space sector through a partnership with NASA on this ambitious mission to return a piece of an asteroid to Earth. Canada is a world leader in optics and this mission will challenge our domestic space industry to, once again, push Canada's world-renowned expertise to new frontiers. In return for Canada's contribution, the Canadian Space Agency will receive a portion of the total returned sample letting Canadian scientists conduct research that could revolutionize our understanding of the Solar System and our planet Earth."

Tony Clement, President of the Treasury Board

"This ground-breaking science-based mission is possible by the collaboration of world-class Canadian industry and academic partners. This will be the first US mission to bring back samples from an asteroid, and it will be Canadian technology that provides the first detailed 3D model of its surface and potential acquisition sites."

Craig Thornton, general manager for Robotics and Automation, MDA

Related products


Associated Links

OSIRIS-REx Project

Canada's Space Policy Framework

OSIRIS-Rex Mission

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Jake Enwright
Press Secretary
Office of the Minister of Industry

Canadian Space Agency
Media Relations Office
Telephone: 450-926-4370
Twitter: @csa_asc

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