Optech is pleased to announce that one of the company’s lidar systems will be a critical part of NASA’s Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission to study asteroid Bennu and return a sample from its surface to Earth.
Scheduled for launch in late 2016, the probe will use its OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA) to survey the entire surface of the 500-m wide carbonaceous asteroid repeatedly over the course of several months. The OLA will help OSIRIS-REx complete its scientific and technical goals by:
• Creating a precise 3D model of the asteroid that details its structure and volume, giving scientists insight into Bennu’s density and composition
• Providing exact ranges to Bennu to help interpret data from the probe’s other sensors
• Helping the probe navigate towards and rendezvous with Bennu
• Identifying potential touch-down spots on Bennu’s surface and surveying the selected spot more closely to provide context for the sample’s origins
Astronomers have determined that Bennu has a small chance of colliding with Earth in the next century, so this mission is crucial for determining the exact risk it poses and deciding how to steer it away from our planet if it does come too close. In addition, because Bennu is about 4.5 billion years old, the 3D model and sample returned will help scientists understand the origins of the solar system and the conditions in which Earth and the other planets formed.
The OLA incorporates two lasers that share a single receiver: The long-range laser uses a powerful pulse to survey at ranges up to 7 km, while the short-range laser fires up to 10,000 times per second to create a more detailed model. Optech designed the OLA in cooperation with MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), and in recognition of this NASA will provide 4% of all the material acquired from Bennu to Canadian scientists for their analysis. The CSA recently received approval from the Canadian Government Treasury Board for the flight development phase of the OLA.
“We are very excited to see one of our lidars going into space again”, said Dr. Paul LaRocque, Optech’s Vice President of Advanced Technology. “Designing highly reliable lidar sensors to operate in space applications is not a new challenge for Optech, with our atmospheric lidar having traveled to Mars on NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander to analyze the atmosphere. Furthermore, our rendezvous lidar system on the US Air Force Research Lab satellite XSS-11 tracked the position and orientation of other satellites in space to study the feasibility of in-orbit docking and servicing. The Optech expertise for the OLA designed for OSIRIS-REx comes from our rich technical heritage of previous designs and our experienced team of Optech scientists and engineers.”